Brown, E. D., Anderson, K. E., Garnett, M. L., Hill, E. M.
The present study investigated relations among various aspects of economic adversity and cortisol levels for young children facing economic hardship. Specifically, the study examined relations to cortisol for variables representing family income, material hardship, financial strain, economic instability, and household chaos. Participants were 374 children, ages 3-5 years, who attended a Head Start preschool, as well as their primary caregivers. Nearly all children lived in households classified as poor or low-income, defined as less than two times the federal poverty threshold. Caregivers completed interviews about family demographics and economic adversity at the beginning of the school year. Child salivary cortisol was sampled in duplicate on two weekday mornings at the end of the school year. We hypothesized that economic instability would show direct statistical effects on child cortisol as well as indirect effects via household chaos. A structural equation model that corresponded to this hypothesis showed adequate fit for the sample data and revealed a statistically significant indirect effect of economic adversity on child cortisol via economic instability and household chaos, as well as statistically significant direct effects of economic instability and chaos on child cortisol, and a significant indirect effect of economic instability on cortisol via household chaos. Implications concern understanding mechanisms of poverty risk, including the impact of instability and chaos on stress physiology, and promoting physiological regulation for children facing economic hardship. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).