What a Family Spends on Housing Can Affect a Child’s Success in School

May 22, 2015 | by Michael Wilt

Categories: Affordable Housing, Housing Matters

The school year is coming to a close, and while much of the focus is on how well schools prepare students for end-of-year exams, what percentage of their income some families spend on rent is also critical to a student’s scholastic achievement.

According to a July 2014 research paper by Johns Hopkins University professor Sandra J. Newman and researcher C. Scott Holupka entitled, “Housing Affordability and Investments in Children,” when parents have more income, they invest it in child enrichment. This positively affects children’s cognitive outcomes, particularly reading and math scores.
The study evaluates low-income families earning around $30,000 a year (at or below approximately 200% of the federal poverty line).

Families at that income level who spend 30% of their household income on rent dedicate

  • $125 more per year on child enrichment than those who spend 10% on rent and
  • $75 more per year than those who spend 50% on rent.

Curious why dedicating 30% of income to rent is the sweet spot? Professor Newman explains her theory in a Chicago Tribune piece, “spending too little puts a family in a bad housing situation in a bad neighborhood, but spending too much forces households to make choices that affect family members, like spending less on computers or books.”

According to Professor Newman, when parents can put their children in a good school in a decent neighborhood and invest in their enrichment, they perform better on tests. Otherwise, they are at a disadvantage, and “it puts them behind in terms of economic skill, that is going to perpetuate inequality for the next generation,” Newman said.    

As this school year wraps up, it’s important to remember that giving your children the best chance to do well in school doesn’t always start in the classroom. It starts in a safe, decent, affordable home.

Visit the online research resource How Housing Matters for a summary of the research paper released by Professor Newman and researcher Holupka.

On the House blog posts are meant to provide general information on various housing-related issues, research and programs. We are not liable for any errors or inaccuracies in the information provided by blog sources. Furthermore, this blog is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed professional attorney.

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