Consensus measures in child poverty: Getting researchers on the same page

Bobbi Wolfe and Seth Pollak

Nearly 1 in 5 children in the United States lives in a household with income below the official federal poverty line, and more than 2 in 5 children live in poor or near-poor households.

The negative outcomes associated with child poverty are well documented; however, the mechanisms causing the harm are not well understood. Studies often differ in how poverty and/or socioeconomic status are measured, making it difficult to contrast and reconcile findings across studies.

To reach the level of certainty needed to put ideas into practice at the policy level, La Follette School Professor Barbara (Bobbi) Wolfe and UW–Madison Professor of Psychology Seth Pollak propose a set of 12 core questions that can be easily integrated into studies of children’s development and that could allow direct comparisons between studies.

This research by Wolfe and Pollak received financial support from one of the first awards in the Herb Kohl Public Service Research Competition. Wolfe and Pollak are affiliates of UW–Madison’s Institute for Research on Poverty, which recently featured their work on its website.

Use of these common measures will help researchers to (a) use data from more than one sample to better test their hypothesis; (b) understand how differences in samples could lead to variations in results across studies; and (c) if this facilitates data sharing, expand the amount of data available for research with little additional cost.

To learn more, see the open access article Maximizing Research on the Adverse Effects of Child Poverty Through Consensus Measures in Developmental Science.