What Money Can't Buy: Family Income and Children's Life Chances

What Money Can't Buy: Family Income and Children's Life Chances

by Susan E. Mayer
Pub. Date:
Harvard University Press


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What Money Can't Buy: Family Income and Children's Life Chances

Children from poor families generally do a lot worse than children from affluent families. They are more likely to develop behavior problems, to score lower on standardized tests, and to become adults in need of public assistance.

Susan Mayer asks whether income directly affects children's life chances, as many experts believe, or if the factors that cause parents to have low incomes also impede their children's life chances. She explores the question of causation with remarkable ingenuity. First, she compares the value of income from different sources to determine, for instance, if a dollar from welfare is as valuable as a dollar from wages. She then investigates whether parents' income after an event, such as teenage childbearing, can predict that event. If it can, this suggests that income is a proxy for unmeasured characteristics that affect both income and the event. Next she compares children living in states that pay high welfare benefits with children living in states with low benefits. Finally, she examines whether national income trends have the expected impact on children. Regardless of the research technique, the author finds that the effect of income on children's outcomes is smaller than many experts have thought.

Mayer then shows that the things families purchase as their income increases, such as cars and restaurant meals, seldom help children succeed. On the other hand, many of the things that do benefit children, such as books and educational outings, cost so little that their consumption depends on taste rather than income. Money alone, Mayer concludes, does not buy either the material or the psychological well-being that children require to succeed.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674587335
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Publication date: 04/28/1997
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 6.44(w) x 9.47(h) x 0.79(d)

About the Author

Susan E. Mayer is Associate Professor, Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago.

Table of Contents


America's Response to Poverty

From Moral Guidance to Income Support

The Cycle Repeats

Changes in Government Expenditures on Poor Children

How Rich and Poor Children Differ

Measures of Children's Well-Being

How Large Are the Differences?

Why Parental Income Might Be Important

Conventional Estimates of the Effect of Income

What Other Studies Show

Re-estimating the Conventional Model

Changes in Parental Income

The "True" Effect of Income

The Source of Income

Income before and after an Outcome

Income and Material Well-Being

How Families Spend Additional Money

Income and Material Hardship

Living Conditions and Children 's Outcomes

Income, Psychological Well-Being, and Parenting Practices

Income and Parental Stress

Income and Parenting Practices

More Evidence on the "True" Effect of Income

Trends in Parents' Income and Children's Outcomes

State Welfare Benefits and Children's Outcomes

What Social Experiments Show

Helping Poor Children

Raising Parental Income

How Much Is Enough?

Changing Parents' Noneconomic Characteristics

Where the Trouble Begins

Appendix: Description of the Samples and Variables

Appendix: Conventional Estimates of the Effect of Income

Appendix: The "True" Effect of Income

Appendix: Index Construction

Appendix: More Evidence on the "True" Effect of Income




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