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Cash as Technology of Motherhood: Findings from a Clinical Trial of Poverty Reduction

Public Humanities, Explorations in the Medical Humanities

dateMay 1, 2023 timeMonday, 3:30pm–5:30pm EDT locationVirtual Event
  • Motherhood and Technology Group (CSSD)
  • The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities
email address [email protected]
  • Free and open to the public
  • Registration required. See details.
Blocks spelling baby and a jar labelled "baby" with coins inside

A growing body of small-scale studies documents that the cognitive and brain development of low-income children differs from that of children in higher-income families. At the same time, a large body of social science research has found disparities by income in measures of children’s achievement, school performance, and learning-related behaviors, such as attention and self-regulation. Developmental scientists agree that poverty is especially likely to shape children’s early development because of the high plasticity and rapid growth of the brain during the first years of life.

Baby’s First Years is the first causal study to test the connections between poverty reduction and brain development among very young children. One thousand low-income mothers and their newborns were recruited in several ethnically and geographically diverse communities. Mothers are receiving either (1) $333 each month ($4,000 each year), or (2) $20 each month ($240 each year), for the first 76 months of the children’s lives, with the first payments occurring shortly after the baby’s birth.

In her talk, "Baby's First Years: A Clinical Trial of Poverty Reduction," senior author of the study and neuroscientist Professor Kimberly Noble will discuss Baby's First Years' recent findings and their implications both for science and social policy. Professor Jane Waldfogel, Professor for the Prevention of Children’s and Youth Problems at the Columbia University School of Social Work and co-Director of the Columbia Population Research Center, will give comments.


Kimberly Noble, MD, PhD, is a Professor of Neuroscience and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. As a neuroscientist and board-certified pediatrician, she studies how socioeconomic inequality relates to children's cognitive and brain development. Her work examines socioeconomic disparities in cognitive development, as well as brain structure and function, across infancy, childhood, and adolescence. She has funding from the NIH and more than a dozen private foundations, and is one of the principal investigators of Baby’s First Years, the first clinical trial of poverty reduction in the first three years of life. Dr. Noble received her undergraduate, graduate, and medical degrees at the University of Pennsylvania. She was the recipient of the Association for Psychological Science Janet Taylor Spence Award for Transformative Early Career Contributions, the American Psychological Association Award for Distinguished Contributions to Psychology in the Public Interest, and is a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science. Her TED talk has received more than 2 million views to date, and her work has received worldwide attention in the popular press.

Jane Waldfogel is the Compton Foundation Centennial Professor for the Prevention of Children’s and Youth Problems at the Columbia University School of Social Work and co-Director of the Columbia Population Research Center. She is also Visiting Professor at the London School of Economics. Waldfogel received her Ph.D. in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School in 1994 and has written extensively on the impact of public policies on poverty, inequality, and child and family well-being. Her books include: Too Many Children Left Behind: The U.S. Achievement Gap in Comparative Perspective; Britain’s War on Poverty; Steady Gains and Stalled Progress: Inequality and the Black-White Test Score Gap; What Children Need; Securing the Future: Investing in Children from Birth to College; and The Future of Child Protection. Current research includes studies of poverty and social policy, work-family policies such as paid family and medical leave, and inequality in child development and achievement.

Helen Zhao is a PhD candidate in Philosophy at Columbia University, specializing in the philosophy of science and medicine. She is an SoF/Heyman Public Humanities Fellow, and a member of the Motherhood and Technology Working Group and the Harvard GenderSci Lab. Starting this fall, she will be a student at Yale Law School.

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