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Impoverished children behavior improves with infusion of cash, research shows
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New research from a ten-year study finds that an increase in family income for poor children is likely to reduce behavioral problems they suffer from. - photo by Daniel Bendtsen
In 1992, the National Bureau of Economic Research began a 10-year study of the personalities of 1,420 low-income children in western North Carolina.

When researchers revisited some of their data last month, they noticed a trend they hadn't studied before: When the financial condition of the children's families improved, so did their behavior.

In 1997, a casino opened on the North Carolina's Eastern Cherokee reservation. The tribal-owned casino distributed profits evenly to each adult tribal member. During the study, these semiannual payments averaged $2,000 and gave a quarter of the study's families a major income boost.

Every year, the researchers asked parents comprehensive questions about the behavior of their children. They used this data to identify trends in how the children's personalities evolved. They found children of parents who received casino money had a measured increase in their conscientiousness (their tendency to be organized, responsible and hardworking) as well as their agreeableness (tendency to act in a cooperative and unselfish manner).

And the change was more pronounced for children whose casino payments made the biggest financial impact.

Ultimately, "this actually reduces inequality with respect to personality traits," Randall Akee, one of the studys researchers, told The Washington Post. "On average, everyone is benefiting, but in particular it's helping the people who need it the most."

"The relationship between spouses tended to improve as a result," The Post reported. "They also know that the relationship between the parents and their children tended to improve."

To be sure, the impact of tribal casinos on surrounding communities is mixed. While research has found that successful casinos improve the economies of reservations, there has also been concern about the impact of neighboring non-Indian communities. Indian casinos have also led to an increase in bankruptcies in neighboring counties, says Linda Gorman of the National Bureau for Economic Research.

When it comes to child behavior, previous research from the American Psychological Association has supported the idea that poverty contributes to psychological issues in children. The chronic stress associated with poverty negatively impacts the development of the prefrontal cortex, and thus are more likely to develop behavioral issues like ADHD.

And yet, lower-income parents were significantly less likely than higher-income parents to say their children needed specialized health services, APAs Daniel Marston writes. He said this is likely because low-income parents have less access to these services and dont recognize special needs in their children.

Research from Brookings Institute indicates that early childhood programs like Head Start help reduce aggressive behavioral problems in poor children.