Pathways through childhood: The role of poverty, the family environment, and children's regulatory capacities in trajectories of academic achievement

Maria Regina Reyes, Fordham University


Because poor children are at greater risk of academic underachievement compared to more affluent children (McLoyd, 1998), this study seeks to expand the current knowledge base of underlying processes by which poverty status (i.e., intermittent and chronic poverty) influences academic achievement among children from first through fifth grade. Drawing from data obtained from a national, large scale, and longitudinal dataset, the researcher employed latent growth curve modeling procedures to examine how changes in the family environment (i.e., parenting and parental responsivity) and children's regulatory capacities (i.e., emotion regulation, self-control, and attention) mediate the relationship between poverty status and achievement. Furthermore, because a growing number of studies shows that socioemotional and academic skills are "related spheres of influence" (Ladd, Birch, & Buhs, 1999), the secondary goal was to describe the bidirectional relationship between children's regulatory capacities (which is an aspect of socioemotional development) and achievement across the elementary school years. Results showed that poverty status was linked to achievement trajectories only when the mediating mechanisms were present, contrary to the traditional notion of mediation in which a mediator diminishes the relationship between the independent and dependent variables. Findings from this study underscore the combined roles of the family environment and children's regulatory capacities in linking poverty status to trajectories of achievement. Specifically, a more progressive and responsive family environment led to children's greater capacity to self-regulate, which in turn led to greater growth in achievement. In addition, progress and change in children's regulatory capacities and achievement showed a bidirectional relationship. Findings from this study inform educational policies about the possibility that training poor parents' emotional responsiveness toward their children may lead to children's greater ability to self-regulate, which in turn could counter the negative association between poverty and children's academic achievement.

Subject Area

Educational psychology|Developmental psychology

Recommended Citation

Reyes, Maria Regina, "Pathways through childhood: The role of poverty, the family environment, and children's regulatory capacities in trajectories of academic achievement" (2008). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3318237.