The persistence of disadvantage across generations is a central concern for social policy in the United States. While an extensive literature has focused on economic mobility for income, much less is known about the mechanisms for mobility out of poverty or material hardship. This study provides the first estimates of the intergenerational transmission of food insecurity and poverty status from childhood into early adulthood. An advantage of studying the transmission of food insecurity is that it provides a direct measure of well-being compared to income-based poverty measures. In this study, we use panels of childhood and adult food security measures in the Panel Study of Income Dynamics over the survey years 1997 (using the Child Development Supplement) through early release data for 2017. Childhood food insecurity is associated with about 20 percentage points higher probability of food insecurity as an adult (or 10 percentage points conditional on income and wealth). The estimated transmission of food insecurity is robust to using different measures of food security as well as to applying instrumental variable methods for panel data that account for an individual’s fixed ability endowment. This study establishes an important benchmark for measuring persistence in long-term family well-being and labor market outcomes.
The University of Michigan's Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) is the longest continuously running longitudinal survey in the world. It began in 1968 as a survey of 4,802 American families and has followed the same parents, along with their children and grandchildren as they split off to form their own households, so that today there are more than 11,000 PSID families and 25,000 individuals. The topics in the survey span work, welfare, family structure, income, consumption, health, and wealth, making the PSID ideally suited for the study of household behaviors over time and across generations. The USDA sponsored the 18-item Household Food Security Module on the 1999, 2001, and 2003 survey years, along with the 1997 Child Development Supplement. Recently the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) provided funding to include the food security module on the 2014 PSID Child Development Supplement (CDS) survey and on the 2015, 2017, and 2019 core PSID surveys. This offers the first opportunity to answer key pressing scientific and policy issues such as the persistence of food insecurity within and across generations, and how changes in food security affect and are affected by the level and change in consumption, wealth, and broader measures of health.
UKCPR partnered with the USDA's Economic Research Service and the USDA Food and Nutrition Service to launch a competitively awarded grants program in 2017. The first round of projects were completed at the end of 2018. The list of grantees and abstracts of their proposed research is provided below, and we have added discussion papers for these projects.
The following projects represent $275,000 in newly funded research that are part of our second round of work utilizing PSID data to investigate food insecurity among U.S. residents.
Christopher Barrett, Cornell University (PI). Food insecurity and resilience in the United States: Indicators, dynamics, and predictive accuracy. The project will examine the correspondence of standard food security measures, household-level correlates and their comparison to established correlates, and how past food security status predicts future wellbeing outcomes, including food security status, children’s educational attainment, and household income per capita.
Mackenzie Brewer, Baylor University (PI). The impact of wealth and debt on the incidence and duration of household food insecurity. The project will establish the extent to which financial assets and debt obligations promote resilience or increase vulnerablity to food insecurity. Researchers will also consider how financial coping strategies unfold across survey waves to affect food insecurity. The project will also assess household characteristics that promote or hinder food insecurity.
Hope Corman, Rider University (PI, Dhaval Dave, Bentley University (co-I), Nancy Reichman, Rutgers University (co-I). Effects of welfare reform on food insecurity across generations. This study will estimate the effects of the 1996 welfare reform legislation on food insecurity of the next generation of households and explore potential moderating effects of the SNAP Program. The legislation led to dramatic caseload declines and increases in employment of low-skilled women but led to extreme material hardships for some families.
Megan Curran, Columbia University (PI), Robert Hartley, Columbia University (co-I). Food security and policy effects by family size: How does quality of well-being depend on quantity of children? This project will investigate the intersection of family size, food insecurity, and the efficacy of food assistance programs and cash transfers for families with children. Households with children experience food insecurity at a rate 55% higher than childless ones. This study will explore how the food security status of families change when families change in size.
Cindy Leung, University of Michigan (PI). Long-term impacts of college students’ food insecurity on future socioeconomic status, wealth, and food insecurity. This research will investigate gaps in knowledge about long-term impacts of food insecurity by following more than 2,500 college students to examine how college food insecurity affects educational attainment, employment, income, wealth accumulation, future food insecurity, and SNAP participation in early adulthood.
Daniel Millimet and Ian McDonough, Southern Methodist University (co-PIs). Examination of intra- and intergenerational food security mobility in the presence of measurement error. This project will address measurement error in the PSID and investigate food insecurity persistence within households and across generations, and patterns of generational food security among different races. Researchers will also analyze the causal effects of SNAP participation and minimum wage laws on food security mobility.
These 2018 projects have been added as discussion papers.
Angela R. Fertig, University of Minnesota (PI). The long-term health consequences of childhood food insecurity.
Sarah Hamersma, Syracuse University (PI), Matthew Kim, University of St Thomas (co-I). Does early food insecurity impede the educational access needed to become food secure?
Pamela Surkan, Johns Hopkins University (PI), Laura Pryor, INSERM & Sorbonne Universities (co-I). Food insecurity and mental health in families with children: Can access to SNAP break the vicious cycle?
Christopher Wimer (PI), Robert Paul Hartley (co-I), Jaehyun Nam (co-I), Columbia University. Intergenerational transmission of food insecurity and the role of food assistance pPrograms in moderating the transmission of food insecurity across generations.
Julia A Wolfson (PI), Noura Insolera (co-I), University of Michigan. The influence of nutrition assistance program participation, parental nutritional knowledge, and family foodways on food security and child well-being.American Journal of Preventative Medicine.
This study examined the long-term consequences of frequency, timing, and severity of food insecurity exposure in childhood on health and health care utilization in adulthood using nearly 20 years of data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. The findings provide evidence of the long-lasting health effects of childhood food insecurity. Young adults who experienced food insecurity as children have higher psychological distress, even when adjusting for childhood socioeconomic status, parent’s health, health during childhood, and food insecurity during adulthood. More severe and more frequent episodes of childhood food insecurity are related to worse psychological distress during adulthood, but even marginal food security and single episodes of food insecurity appear to be related to worse psychological distress during adulthood. Very low food security during childhood also appears to be related to worse physical health during adulthood. Using instrumental variables to adjust for selection into the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), this study also finds some evidence that receipt of SNAP during childhood appears to reduce the effects of childhood food insecurity on health during adulthood.
Using partial identification methods and data from the PSID, we analyze the causal transmission of food security across generations. Food security rates are positively correlated across generations; food security rates in 2015 are 20 points higher for respondents who grew up in households that were secure in 1999 than those growing up in food insecure households. Despite these strong associations, the intergenerational effect of growing up in a food secure household remains uncertain. . Assessing the degree of intergenerational transmission of food security is complicated by unobserved factors (e.g., human capital, health issues) that jointly influence whether a child resides in a food secure household and, subsequently, whether likely to be food secure as a young adult. Identifying causal transmission across generations requires addressing this important selection problem. In light of the ambiguities created by the selection problem, a number of alternative assumptions and estimates are presented. While under the weakest assumptions very little can be inferred, results derived under strong but plausible assumptions provide evidence that growing up in a food insecure household increases the probability of being food secure as a young adult.