Reducing poverty is critical to prevent negative long-term outcomes in children and to improve the life trajectories of today’s youth. 

A family’s income level is linked to a child’s physical, emotional, and cognitive development (Engle & Black, 2008). Children in higher-income families are more likely to perform better when assessed on their language, memory, executive function, and socioemotional function – all of which are key factors related to school performance and learning-related behaviors, such as paying attention and self-regulation. 

Early childhood brain development is crucial for receiving an education and achieving success later in life. Children born into low-income families are at a greater risk for undergoing traumatizing experiences associated with poverty that can have long-term negative implications, such as having lower educational attainment, engaging in riskier and harmful behaviors, obtaining lower paying jobs, and having poorer overall health (Duncan et al., 2011). 

For these reasons, basic income projects are examining the impacts on children’s health and well-being resulting from their families receiving an unrestricted cash transfer. Here’s a closer look at Baby’s First Years, the first basic income project to study the connections between poverty reduction and brain development among very young children.


Participating are one thousand mothers who were recruited at the time of their child’s birth.


Mothers were recruited across four sites – New York City, greater New Orleans (Louisiana), the Twin Cities (Minneapolis & St. Paul, MN), and the Omaha (Nebraska) metropolitan area.


Mothers will either receive $333 or $20 each month for the first 52 months of their child’s life. Researchers are collecting data on various aspects of family life (i.e. parent stress, family expenditures, family routines, parenting practices, parents’ time use, and child care arrangements) using periodic surveys and conducting semi-structured interviews with a subsample of participants. Infant brain development and function will be assessed using mobile EEG technology at the beginning and end of the study. With this technology, researchers will measure infant brain activity levels and how they were impacted after participating in the study.


With a mixed-methods approach of qualitative parental survey responses along with quantitative analysis of baby’s cognitive development processes, researchers seek to understand more deeply the impact of providing families with a basic income as a way to meet their basic needs in conjunction with identifying the associations between family income levels and early childhood development outcomes. 

Follow the study as it progresses:


Duncan, G. J., Magnuson, K., Kalil, A., & Ziol-Guest, K. (2011, May 25). The Importance of Early Childhood Poverty. SpringerLink. 

Engle, P. L., & Black, M. M. (2008, July 25). The Effect of Poverty on Child Development and Educational Outcomes. The New York Academy of Sciences.