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Family assets and child outcomes: evidence and directions.

For poor families, the possession of assets--savings accounts, homes, and the like--has the potential not only to relieve some of the stress of living in poverty but also to make a better future seem like a real possibility. If children in families that own certain assets fare better than children in families without them, then helping poor families build those assets would be an effective strategy for two-generation programs. Indeed, write Michal Grinstein-Weiss, Trina Williams Shanks, and Sondra Beverly, plenty of evidence shows that assets are connected to positive outcomes for poor children. For example, young people who have any college savings at all, even a very small amount, are more likely to go to college; children in households with assets score higher on standardized achievement tests; and children of homeowners experience fewer behavioral problems. But this evidence comes from longitudinal data sets and is therefore correlational. Looking for causal relationships, the authors examine the results of experimental programs that opened various types of savings accounts for poor people and matched their contributions. Several of these trials included a control group that did not receive a savings account, making it possible to attribute any positive outcomes directly to the savings accounts rather than to their owners' personal characteristics. These programs dispelled the myth that poor people can't save; participants were generally able to accumulate savings. It's too early to tell, however, whether assets and asset-building programs have long-term effects on children's wellbeing, though one experiment found positive impacts on disadvantaged children's social-emotional development at age four. The most promising programs share several features: they are opened early in life; they are opened automatically, with no action required from the recipients; and they come with an initial deposit.

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