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Cheaper Housing May Make Smarter Children

Update Date: Jun 09, 2014 06:45 PM EDT

How much money parents spend on housing may influence their children's test scores, a new study suggests. While it's believed that people should spend around a third of their income on housing, new research reveals that low-income families benefit most by following this rule.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University wanted to see how affordable housing affected cognitive development, physical health, and wellbeing of children living in low-income families.

While there were no links between the amount of money spent on housing and children's physical and social health, the findings revealed that affordable housing boosts cognitive abilities and school grades.

The study revealed that children's reading and math scores tended to suffer when a family spent more than half of their income on housing. Researchers also found that children of families who spent less than 20 percent of their income on housing also had significantly lower test scores.

"Families spending about 30 percent of their income on housing had children with the best cognitive outcomes," Sandra J. Newman, a Johns Hopkins professor of policy studies and director of the university's Center on Housing, Neighborhoods and Communities, said in a news release. "It's worse when you pay too little and worse when you pay too much."

Researcher said the findings show that families who spent more money on housing spent less on educational tools like books, computers, and field trips to boost child development. Newman and her team also found that families who didn't spend enough in housing were more likely to live in distressed neighborhoods and inadequate environments, which could lead to poorer academic performance.

"The markedly poorer performance of children in families with extremely low housing cost burdens undercuts the housing policy assumption that a lower housing cost burden is always best," Newman said. "Rather than finding a bargain in a good neighborhood, they're living in low-quality housing with spillover effects on their children's development."

"People are making trade-offs, and those trade-offs have implications for their children," concluded co-researcher C. Scott Holupka, according to a statement.

The findings were published in the Journal of Housing Economics and in the journal Housing Policy Debate.

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