The World Isn’t Linear or Additive: Understanding and Reducing the Effects of Poverty on Children and Parents

WCPC Seminar Series on Poverty and Policy: Fall 2011

Presented by Tom Weisner
Professor of Anthropology in Departments of Psychiatry (Semel Institute) & Anthropology
University of California, Los Angeles
Monday, October 31, 2011;  12:30 - 1:30 p.m., questions / discussion until 2:00 p.m.
Parrington Hall Commons, Room 308
University of Washington


Thomas S. Weisner, PhD is Professor of Anthropology, Departments of Psychiatry (Semel Institute, Center for Culture and Health) and Anthropology at UCLA. His research and teaching interests are in culture and human development; medical, psychological and cultural studies of families and children at risk; mixed methods; and evidence-informed policy. He has done fieldwork with the Abaluyia of Kenya, native Hawaiians, countercultural US families, US families with children with disabilities, and working poor families in the US. His BA is from Reed College and PhD from Harvard in Social Relations & Anthropology. He is the co-author of Higher Ground: New Hope for the Working Poor and Their Children (2007) (with Greg Duncan and Aletha Huston); co-editor of Making it work: Low-wage employment, family life and child development (with Hiro Yoshikawa & Edward Lowe), (2006); editor of Discovering successful pathways in children's development: New methods in the study of childhood and family life (2005); and co-editor of African families and the crisis of social change (with Candice Bradley and Phil Kilbride) (1997).  Weisner is currently is a Senior Program Advisor to the William T Grant Foundation, and on the Governing Council of the Society for Research in Child Development.


New Hope was a successful poverty reduction program that offered a positive social contract to working poor adults. If you worked full time, you were eligible to receive income supplements, childcare vouchers, health care benefits, a community service job, and client respect. New Hope did reduce poverty and increase income and earnings for some participants, and improved outcomes for some children. Yet this story is not one of simple linear, additive relationships leading to positive effects of a good program. There are multiple pathways of influence, varied responses to interventions by parents and children, and positive program impacts in some circumstances and not others. In spite of relatively generous benefits, New Hope was only selectively effective. Only those not working when New Hope began and those with few barriers to work were positively affected by the program through achieving more work hours, poverty reduction, and income gains. Boys in program families benefited, girls did not. Take-up of New Hope benefits was typically partial and episodic; for instance, some parents would not use child care programs for young children. Ethnographic evidence was essential for understanding these sometimes surprising program impacts and their policy and practice implications, and qualitative, mixed methods were combined as part of an experimental, random-assignment research design.


See the slides from this presentation here.