Food Stamps and Academic Performance

Children growing up in a poor family experience times when their basic needs are not met. Not having enough money to buy food and clothes can have a significant impact on a child's performance in school. In the United States, there is a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP (formerly called "Food Stamps") which provides financial assistance to poor families so that they can meet their nutritional needs. A family of four, for instance, can receive as much as $640 per month. In most instances, this amount is not really adequate for the entire month such that during the final days of the month, the chance of nutritional deficiencies becomes higher. Recent research shows that the academic performance of children correlates with the benefits cycle such that performance is poorer when the "Food Stamps" have run out.

When a math exam is administered 26 days after SNAP benefits are received, students' scores are lower:

Above based on data provided by
Cotti, Chad D. and Gordanier, John and Ozturk, Orgul D., When Does it Count? The Timing of Food Stamp Receipt and Educational Performance (June 25, 2017). 

Lower scores do seem to correlate with the SNAP cycle. Students score lower when the family has presumably run out of money to buy food. There is no argument that proper nutrition correlates with academic performance. However, the above graph does show several intriguing details. There is a significant difference between African American and White children, and among African American American children, there is a difference between boys and girls. Why does the SNAP benefits timing affect the performance of African American boys more? Why is there a difference between blacks and whites? Obviously, these questions will remain because this study is merely correlational. However, it is clear that there are differences that go beyond when families receive assistance. Perhaps, there are differences in budgets or priorities. Food shortage can translate to stress and there may be differences in family structure that can account for how this stress is distributed among family members. Furthermore, it is a fact that schools are still segregated according to income and race. So perhaps, poor white children are simply able to cope better with harder times because they are receiving a greater level of support from their schools. Whatever the reason is, it should be pretty clear why poverty gets in the way of education.