Flourishing Despite Disadvantage: Understanding Resilience in Children Growing up in Poverty

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  • Project Duration:

    September 1, 2017 - February 28, 2022

  • Core Funding Area:

    Big Questions

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  • Amount Awarded:


Director: Duncan Edward Astle

Institution: Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge

This ambitious project takes an empirical approach to understanding flourishing and resilience. In particular, it seeks to explore how different factors interact to promote human flourishing in childhood.

Although poverty can negatively affect child development, many children from low-income backgrounds make excellent developmental progress. Led by Duncan Astle, this project focuses on the underlying mechanisms that afford this resilience. Despite their disadvantages, these children have key characteristics crucial to positive development. By establishing what those are, the team hopes to guide future interventions to help all children flourish, regardless of their background.

The typical approach compares children growing up in economic hardship to their peers from wealthier backgrounds. But this “group average” approach misses important details.

The project's empirical approach has a unique—and necessary—combination of five features:

  1. A broad definition of flourishing;
  2. A study of multiple factors that moderate deprivation’s effect on child development;
  3. A longitudinal perspective that considers how deprivation influences the rate of a child’s progress, and whether other factors moderate this rate;
  4. An exploration of how elements of deprivation and resilience are interlinked, and whether they have specific impacts on child development; and
  5. A network science approach to understanding the developing brain.

With a team of exceptional scientists from different fields—education, psychology, sociology, neuroscience—the project takes an interdisciplinary approach to achieve its bold aims, which extend beyond the tools or techniques of any one field.

Research outputs include peer-reviewed publications, conference presentations, engagement with the broader public, practitioner workshops, and dissemination to policymakers. If successful, it will advance our understanding of child development, guide future interventions for at-risk children, and help all children flourish.


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