A recent report by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute has looked at the role housing plays in shaping outcomes for children from different socio-economic classes. The study considered the physical health, social and emotional development and learning outcomes of children aged from three months to nine years, in relation to their housing situation.
“It is true that children born to wealthier families and more educated families do slightly better on average, but many children from lower socio-economic backgrounds also have above-average outcomes,” said the Director of the Centre for Labour Market Research, Dr Michael Dockery.
Differences in child outcomes by family socio-economic status generally widen as children age. The main way children benefit from being of a higher socio-economic background is through living in a better neighbourhood, rather than a better house.
“The old real estate adage of getting into the worst house in the best neighbourhood seems to also apply for improving children’s outcomes,” he said.
“The research also implies that urban planning featuring parks, playgrounds and other open areas are likely to be conducive to children’s development and wellbeing, even if it means higher density dwellings in the area, such as apartment complexes.”
The factors shaping children’s outcomes vary across different areas of development and wellbeing.
“In terms of physical health, housing plays a small role in shaping outcomes. However, living on a farm or in better neighbourhood conditions was shown to contribute to better physical health,” he said.
“For children’s social and emotional outcomes, the family aspects of a home are of greater importance than the actual dwelling itself.
“Parenting styles have a much stronger impact than housing variables. Other factors such as frequent moves, renting rather than owning and being in financial stress also appeared to have negative impacts on a child’s social and emotional wellbeing.
“For learning outcomes, living in crowded housing has the largest negative impact.”
The study also suggests that housing assistance programs in Australia, including public housing, generally provide an effective safety net in protecting children’s outcomes.
But the research also found two key groups stood out for whom their inferior housing circumstances negatively impact upon their children’s health and wellbeing: sole parents and Indigenous Australians.