Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences



Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Jeremy K. Fox

Committee Member

Michael Bixter

Committee Member

Erin Kang

Committee Member

Mark Kitzie


The large number of children from low-income households or living in poverty are at increased risk for a range of negative outcomes, including behavior problems. The Family Stress Model is a framework that can be used to describe how poverty may shape the development of behavior problems through its influence on family processes, including parental mental health, parenting, and household environment. While the Family Stress Model has been widely replicated, studies have rarely examined the context of infancy and toddlerhood, during which family-related processes tend to be more impactful in child development. Therefore, the present study evaluated two adaptations of the Family Stress Model in a large, ethnically diverse sample of Early Head Start families (N= 2,835). Specifically, the present study investigated whether poverty, in the form of economic hardships and pressures, contributes to behavior problems in infancy and toddlerhood indirectly through its impact on four family-based risk factors (parental depression, household chaos, parenting stress, and parental sensitivity), as well as whether these factors operate independently or indirectly through parental sensitivity. Results indicated that parental depression, parenting stress, and household chaos mediated relations between economic pressure and parental sensitivity, and that parenting stress and household chaos, but not parental depression, were associated with child behavior problems indirectly through parental sensitivity. Social support was also identified as a buffer against the negative effect of economic pressure on parental depression. Implications for future Family Stress Model research with Early Head Start families, as well as for prevention and intervention approaches, are discussed.

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