Affordable housing linked to children's test scores

June 09, 2014

It's long been accepted - with little science to back it up - that people should spend roughly a third of their income on housing. As it turns out, that may be about how much a low-income family should spend to optimize children's brainpower.

Johns Hopkins University researchers have explored the effects of affordable housing on the cognitive development, physical health, and emotional wellbeing of children living in poverty. How much a family spends on housing has no impact on a child's physical or social health, they found, but when it came to cognitive ability, it is a game changer.

When a family spent more than half its income on housing, its children's reading and math scores tended to suffer, found Sandra J. Newman, a Johns Hopkins professor of policy studies, working with researcher C. Scott Holupka. Children's test scores also took a hit when families spent less than 20 percent of income on housing.

"Families spending about 30 percent of their income on housing had children with the best cognitive outcomes," said Newman, who is director of the university's Center on Housing, Neighborhoods and Communities. "It's worse when you pay too little and worse when you pay too much."

The findings are highlighted in two new journal articles, "Housing Affordability and Investments in Children," published in the Journal of Housing Economics, and "Housing Affordability and Child Well-being," published in Housing Policy Debate.

More than 88 percent of renters with the lowest incomes spent more than 30 percent of their income on rent, according to the 2009 American Community Survey. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's latest report on affordable housing states household incomes must be at least 105 percent of the area median for a family to find decent, affordable housing units.

Families in the study that spent most of their money on housing spent less on things like books, computers and educational outings needed for healthy child development, Newman and Holupka found. Families that didn't invest enough in housing likely ended up in the sort of distressed neighborhoods and inadequate dwellings that can also take a toll on children.

"The markedly poorer performance of children in families with extremely low housing cost burdens undercuts the housing policy assumption that a lower housing cost burden is always best," Newman said. "Rather than finding a bargain in a good neighborhood, they're living in low-quality housing with spillover effects on their children's development."

Newman and Holupka found families that had obtained truly affordable housing, spending roughly 30 percent of their income on it, did indeed spend more money on enrichment for their kids.

When a family moved from spending more than half of its income on housing to the 30 percent ideal, it invested an average of $98 more on the children, the researchers found. Not a lot of money, but enough to make a difference. Even when families increased the amount spent on housing -- from spending 10 percent of their income to 30 percent -- they spent about $170 more on child enrichment.

"People are making trade-offs," Holupka said, "and those trade-offs have implications for their children."
-end-
Johns Hopkins University news releases are available online, as is information for reporters. Find more Johns Hopkins stories on the Hub.

Johns Hopkins University

Related Children Articles from Brightsurf:

Black and Hispanic children in the US have more severe eczema than white children
A presentation at this year's virtual American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting reveals the disparities that exist for Black and Hispanic children when it comes to Atopic Dermatitis (AD), commonly known as eczema.

Black children with cancer three times less likely to receive proton radiotherapy than White children
A retrospective analysis led by investigators from Brigham and Women's Hospital has found racial disparities in the use of the therapy for patients enrolled in trials.

The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health: First Europe-wide study of children confirms COVID-19 predominately causes mild disease in children and fatalities are very rare
Children with COVID-19 generally experience a mild disease and fatalities are very rare, according to a study of 582 patients from across Europe published today in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal.

Children not immune to coronavirus; new study from pandemic epicenter describes severe COVID-19 response in children
- While most children infected with the novel coronavirus have mild symptoms, a subset requires hospitalization and a small number require intensive care.

How many children is enough?
Most Russians would like to have two children: a boy and a girl.

Preterm children have similar temperament to children who were institutionally deprived
A child's temperament is affected by the early stages of their life.

Only-children more likely to be obese than children with siblings
Families with multiple children tend to make more healthy eating decisions than families with a single child.

Children living in countryside outperform children living in metropolitan area in motor skills
Residential density is related to children's motor skills, engagement in outdoor play and organised sports. that Finnish children living in the countryside spent more time outdoors and had better motor skills than their age peers in the metropolitan area.

Hispanic and black children more likely to miss school due to eczema than white children
In a study that highlights racial disparities in the everyday impact of eczema, new research shows Hispanic and black children are more likely than white children to miss school due to the chronic skin disease.

Children, their parents, and health professionals often underestimate children's higher weight status
More than half of parents underestimated their children's classification as overweight or obese -- children themselves and health professionals also share this misperception, according to new research being presented at this year's European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Glasgow, UK (April 28-May 1).

Read More: Children News and Children Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.