Poor children start school at a disadvantage in terms of their early skills, behaviors, and health. Fewer than half (48 percent) of poor children are ready for school at age five, compared to 75 percent of children from families with moderate and high income, a 27 percentage point gap. This paper examines the reasons why poor children are less ready for school and evaluates three interventions for improving their school readiness.
Poverty is one of several risk factors facing poor children. Mothers living in poverty are often unmarried and poorly educated, they have higher rates of depression and poor health than more affluent mothers, and they demonstrate lower parenting skills in certain dimensions. In fact, the gap in school readiness shrinks from 27 percentage points to 7 percentage points after adjusting for demographic, health, and behavioral differences between poor and moderate- and higher-income families. Even so, poverty remains an important influence on school readiness, partly through its influence on many of the observed differences between poor and more affluent families. Higher levels of depression and a more punitive parenting style, for example, may result from economic stress and so models controlling for these factors may understate the full effects of poverty on school readiness.