Child Psychiatry & Human Development

, Volume 43, Issue 6, pp 924–942 | Cite as

Understanding the Relation of Low Income to HPA-Axis Functioning in Preschool Children: Cumulative Family Risk and Parenting As Pathways to Disruptions in Cortisol

  • Maureen Zalewski
  • Liliana J. Lengua
  • Cara J. Kiff
  • Philip A. Fisher
Original Article


This study examined the relation of low income and poverty to cortisol levels, and tested potential pathways from low income to disruptions in cortisol through cumulative family risk and parenting. The sample of 306 mothers and their preschool children included 29 % families at or near poverty, 27 % families below the median income, and the remaining families at middle and upper income. Lower income was related to lower morning cortisol levels, and cumulative risk predicted a flatter diurnal slope, with a significant indirect effect through maternal negativity, suggesting that parenting practices might mediate an allostatic effect on stress physiology.


Low income Cumulative risk Parenting practices Cortisol Children 



Support for this research was provided by NICHD grant R01HD054465 awarded to Liliana Lengua, NIMH Grant #F31MH085420 awarded to Maureen Zalewski and NIMH grant #F31MH086171 awarded to Cara Kiff. The authors thank the families who participated in this study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maureen Zalewski
    • 1
  • Liliana J. Lengua
    • 1
  • Cara J. Kiff
    • 1
  • Philip A. Fisher
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of OregonEugeneUSA
  3. 3.Oregon Social Learning CenterEugeneUSA

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