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Research findings

2012 research finding

The consequence of poverty on development and mental health

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Illustrasjonsfoto: Colourbox.com
Illustrasjonsfoto: Colourbox.com

Around seven per cent of Norwegian families can be defined as poor. Growing up in such circumstances is associated with increased risk of problems in most areas of development, such as language, learning, behaviour and somatic health, according to a 2012 literature review by Dearing, Zachrisson and Mykletun in the Journal of the Norwegian Psychological Association.

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In the article, the authors presented the following: 

  • On average, poor children have poorer language and cognitive development, and perform worse in school than children from more affluent families. 
  • One hypothesis is that family income affects parental capacity to invest in and support their child adequately, which in turn will affect the child’s development. Research, including the study of the direction of this effect, seems to support this hypothesis. 
  • For a family of two adults and two children, the poverty line in Norway is a net family income of 318 000 Norwegian kroner (based on 2008 values).

Poverty can limit the family’s ability to invest in the child’s development (e.g. appropriate diet or age-appropriate books and toys), leading to stress and strains for the parents, with negative consequences for their mental health and quality of care. In this context, the authors also discuss the challenge of separating causality (one cause leads to one effect) from correlation (one event occurs simultaneously with one outcome).

The question of how we can prevent children who grow up in poverty from developing problems is primarily a political question. Universal child benefits and subsidised child care are measures that have been implemented in Norway. Universal child care has also been introduced, and the authors conclude that it remains to be seen if this measure has the desired effect.


Dearing, Eric; Zachrisson, Henrik Daae; Mykletun, Arnstein (2011). Fattigdommens konsekvenser for utvikling og psykisk helse. Tidsskrift for Norsk Psykologforening, 48 (8), 785-787 (in Norwegian only).