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Unformatted text preview: The Environment of Childhood Poverty Gary W. Evans Cornell University Poor children confront widespread environmental inequi- ties. Compared with their economically advantaged coun- terparts, they are exposed to more family turmoil, violence, separation from their families, instability, and chaotic households. Poor children experience less social support, and their parents are less responsive and more authoritar- ian. Low-income children are read to relatively infre- quently, watch more TV, and have less access to books and computers. Low-income parents are less involved in their childrens school activities. The air and water poor chil- dren consume are more polluted. Their homes are more crowded, noisier, and of lower quality. Low-income neigh- borhoods are more dangerous, offer poorer municipal ser- vices, and suffer greater physical deterioration. Predomi- nantly low-income schools and day care are inferior. The accumulation of multiple environmental risks rather than singular risk exposure may be an especially pathogenic aspect of childhood poverty. R esearchers in public health, medicine, and more recently, psychology have come to appreciate the value of studying poverty in its own right. Initially this meant descriptive analyses demonstrating physical and psychological sequelae of poverty or low socioeconomic status (SES; Aber, Bennett, Conley, & Li, 1997; Adler, Boyce, Chesney, Folkman, & Syme, 1993; Bradley & Corwyn, 2002; Chen, Matthews, & Boyce, 2002; Duncan & Brooks-Gunn, 1997; Huston, McLoyd, & Garcia Coll, 1994; Luthar, 1999; McLoyd, 1998; Williams & Collins, 1995). But psychologists have begun to move beyond a social address perspective, turning their attention to under- lying explanations for povertys harmful impacts on chil- dren and their families. A limitation of psychological re- search on poverty is the absence of an ecological perspectivethat is, recognizing that the answer to why poverty is harmful probably does not lie with any one underlying agent or process (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 1998). Psychologists are aware of the multiple disadvan- tages accompanying low income in America. Yet the search for explanatory processes of povertys impacts on children has focused almost exclusively on psychosocial characteristics within the family, particularly negative par- enting (Bornstein & Bradley, 2003; G. H. Brody et al., 1994; Conger & Elder, 1994; Luthar, 1999; McLoyd, 1998). This focus on psychosocial processes is limited in two respects. First, psychological research on poverty has largely ignored the physical settings that low-income chil- dren and families inhabit. Families reside in both a social and a physical world (Bradley, 1999; Evans, Kliewer, & Martin, 1991; Parke, 1978; Wachs, 2000; Wohlwill & Heft, 1987), and each has well-documented impacts on human development. Second, poor children face a daunting array of suboptimal psychosocial and physical conditions. Many adverse physical and psychosocial conditions covary and...
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