Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Clinical Psychology

First Advisor

Alice S. Carter

Second Advisor

Abbey Eisenhower

Third Advisor

Stephanie M. Jones


Economic disadvantage is a known risk factor for poorer behavioral and academic functioning in young children. However, very few studies have examined the internal, cognitive aspects of the experience of economic disadvantage. The current study addressed this gap in the literature through a developmentally tailored, mixed methods approach. Play-based interviews were conducted with children between ages four and nine. The interviews assessed children’s beliefs, stereotypes, and attributions about poverty, inequality, and people who are poor, and interview data was coded both quantitatively and qualitatively. In addition, the current study included an assessment of stereotype threat related to the activation of beliefs regarding disadvantaged economic status. Results of this study showed that disadvantaged children demonstrate relative awareness of their disadvantage compared to advantaged children in some dimensions. In addition, the study found high rates of stereotype endorsement among children from diverse economic backgrounds, with stereotype endorsement generally increasing with age. Thematic analysis of interviews conducted with economically disadvantaged 6-to-9-year olds showed that children emphasized resource deprivation (e.g., not having enough money) and downstream consequences of material deprivation (e.g., not being able to afford to attend a good school; feeling sad because of a lack of resources) as attributions for the stereotypes they endorsed about the poor. Endorsement of some aspects of disadvantage and some stereotype domains was associated with disadvantaged children’s internalizing symptoms, though similar patterns were also found for advantaged children. Advantaged children generally outperformed disadvantaged children in the math assessment; unexpectedly, children in both economic groups appeared equally impacted by the stereotype threat condition versus the non-threat condition, with reductions in math performance for all children following the presentation of a statement designed to induce stereotype threat. The study provides preliminary evidence that young children who are economically disadvantaged may have awareness of their disadvantage, while also suggesting that this awareness is subtle and not readily expressed by young children. The study also provides evidence for children’s awareness and endorsement of stereotypes about people who are poor, and suggests that young disadvantaged children have a well-elaborated conception of the role material deprivation plays in the lives of the poor.


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