Trinity College Dublin research underscores telling impact of child poverty

Study harvests data for more than 7,000 children from the Growing Up in Ireland 2008 birth group

A one-off experience of poverty, especially if experienced around age three-years-old, is enough to have an impact on a child’s development, according to new research from Trinity College Dublin.

The study used data for more than 7,000 children from the Growing Up in Ireland 2008 birth cohort, tracking them at ages nine months, three years, five years and nine years.

The period of study covered from 2008 to 2017, when the living standards of many Irish families fluctuated with the recession and recovery.

Reporting an experience of poverty at just one of these interviews was classified as “one-off poverty” while those who reported poverty at three or four interviews were in “persistent poverty”.


Although it is well established that children from poorer families are at a higher risk of educational and behavioural difficulties, the study found even just one incidence of poverty had an impact.

Parenting stress and reduced ability to invest in healthy activities, such as reading to young children, have been identified by researchers as the key factors affecting children’s development.

An electronic version of the paper was recently published in a leading European sociological journal European Societies.

Mengxuan (Suri) Li, a PhD candidate at the Department of Sociology, and the lead author of the study, said before the research, they believed persistent poverty would be the “most harmful” to children.

“We found that even one spell in poverty negatively impacts on child development, especially if experienced around age three. This is because falling behind early makes it difficult to catch up later,” she added.

Yekaterina Chzhen, assistant professor at the Department of Sociology, said they also found that behaviour problems in early childhood make it more difficult for children to learn, “resulting in a negative feedback loop over time” and said poverty can be “detrimental” to a child’s development.

The study has several policy implications, said Ms Chzhen, adding that poverty “affects mothers in that they are more stressed. As much as you can help parents, it might be better to reduce poverty.”

Ms Chzhen commended the social welfare system in Ireland in this regard but said further steps could be taken to ensure the provision of services.

“What Ireland doesn’t do very well is services. If there was accessible and affordable childcare services for example, that would reduce maternal stress and would also provide cognitive stimulation for the child with other peers their age or with qualified teachers,” she added.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times