Factors Affecting State Differences in Child Well-Being

A KIDS COUNT Working Paper

Posted August 1, 2007
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Population Reference Bureau
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Across the United States, there is enormous variation in state-level measures of child well-being. Yet, little systematic research has been done to explain these differences.

This report seeks to understand the link between child well-being and state characteristics. It begins by identifying three broad categories of factors that may help explain why some states — and not others — are more effective at supporting child well-being. These three categories are: 1) demographic characteristics, such as the concentration of higher risk groups — racial and ethnic minorities, new immigrants and very young children — within a state’s child population; 2) state policies, which may directly or indirectly affect children’s health and economic status; and 3) environmental factors, including the level of resources that parents invest in their children.

To conduct this review, researchers utilized the state-level child well-being index, which serves as the basis for the Annie E. Casey Foundation's KIDS COUNT® Data Book rankings. Beyond examining characteristics of the best- and worst-ranked states, the study also utilizes multiple regression analyses to estimate the independent effect of measures potentially linked to child well-being.

Key findings shared in this report include:

  • Most — 90% — of the differences in child well-being across states may be explained by the collective impact of a handful of measures.
  • Demographics, economics, and policy variables all contribute to differences in child well-being across states.
  • Among the policy variables tested, measures found to be related to child well-being include: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program dollar cutoff for countable assets; food stamp participation rate; state spending per child; and state charges for child health care coverage.
  • Among the demographic and economic variables tested, measures found to be related to child well-being include: percent Black; percent Hispanic; percent immigrant children; median family income; household net worth; and prevalence of uninsured adults.

Findings & Stats

Statements & Quotations

Key Takeaway

Not all states are equal when it comes to supporting child-well being

The nation’s top-10 and bottom-10 ranked states are significantly different, in terms of child well-being, when compared to states that sit among the middle 30.

States ranked in the top 10 have a lower concentration of Black and Hispanic children compared to the middle 30. They also are less urban, have less income inequality, more employment opportunity and are more likely to be located in the Northeast. Families with children in these states have, on average, a higher median family income and a larger share of adults ages 25 and older have a high school education while fewer non-elderly adults lack health insurance.

At the other end of the spectrum: States ranked in the bottom 10 — when compared to the middle-30 ranked states — have a greater concentration of Black children, lower employment rates, a lower median family income and fewer policies in place to enhance family income.