The Psychological Effects of Poverty on Parenting


Bettinger E, Cunha N, Lichand G, Madeira R. The Psychological Effects of Poverty on Parenting. In Preparation.


This paper investigates whether poverty affects parenting, through cognitive function. While there is evidence that low-cost interventions can significantly improve parenting, trickling-down to better student behavior and outcomes at school, such interventions have much weaker effects among the most disadvantaged families. One hypothesis for why that might be is that poverty impedes cognitive function (Mani et al, 2013), capturing poor parents’ attention, memory and impulse control. We test this hypothesis by running lab experiments to measure parents’ executive functions. This psychological theory also predicts that poverty should enhance focus, by making poor parents relatively better at tasks framed in monetary terms. To test this hypothesis, we design a low-cost intervention aimed at improving parental engagement, delivering weekly text messages (SMS) to support best parenting practices in Brazil over 8 months of the school year. We develop two versions of this intervention – one that frames the consequences of good parenting in monetary terms, and one that does not – and randomly assign parents to either version of the treatment or to a control group. We then test the focus enhancement mechanism, by comparing parents in the monetary framing treatment to those in the neutral framing one, and to those in the control group. Results are forthcoming.

Last updated on 02/08/2016