How socioeconomically, racially and ethnically diverse families are faring during COVID-19

Dr. Elizabeth Votruba-Drzal


As it stretches into its second year, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected almost everyone in some way. At its best, the pandemic has allowed loved ones to spend more time together and find communities of support; at its worst, the pandemic has caused job loss, social isolation and deaths. University of Pittsburgh researchers are interested in describing how families are faring no matter where Pittsburghers fall on the spectrum of pandemic experiences,

The Triple C study—which stands for “children, COVID-19 and its consequences”—will offer a descriptive portrayal of the economic precarity families face and of the well-being of their children during the pandemic. The term “economic precarity” is a “multidimensional concept that includes income, wealth, economic hardship, food insecurity, parental unemployment, access to health insurance and financial stability,” according to the study’s author, Elizabeth Votruba-Drzal, PhD, professor of psychology and senior scientist at the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh’s Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. At four sites in the United States, including Pittsburgh, Dr. Votruba-Drzal and fellow researchers are compiling descriptive data about how families who are socioeconomically, racially and ethnically diverse are faring.

“The study has a few aims,” says Dr. Votruba-Drzal. “The first is to describe the magnitude and scope of economic precarity that families and children are experiencing during the pandemic. The second is to look at the implications of that economic precarity for family functioning and child health and well-being. We’re collecting measures of parents’ physical and mental health, parenting stress and parent-partner relationship interactions. We’re asking parents to report on a range of children’s outcomes, like their psychosocial development and schooling experiences during the pandemic.”

Dr. Votruba-Drzal notes that there is strong evidence to suggest that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on children and families are being borne disproportionately by children and families from backgrounds that are racially minoritized. Therefore, a third aim of the Triple C study is to examine whether the pandemic has exacerbated racial and ethnic disparities and economic circumstances.

“Childhood is important in shaping adult health and well-being, and COVID-19 will likely have long-lasting ramifications for children facing increased familial economic uncertainty and deprivation,” says Dr. Votruba-Drzal. “These ramifications are likely particularly pronounced for Black and Latino children and children in households of lower socioeconomic status, as the virus’s health and economic effects have been more severe for people of color.”

In the long-term, Dr. Votruba-Drzal and her colleagues hope to secure funding to follow up with parents who participated in the study at future intervals to see how they are doing. She thinks that families who were experiencing hardship or inequality before the pandemic may prove to have a harder time recovering from its negative effects. More immediately, she hopes the study data inform local and state governments’ policies and offer insights into how best to support children and families during these difficult times.

Across the country, people have seen examples of widespread economic hardship, including food and housing insecurity. However, in many communities, people have also shown tremendous generosity and understood that the well-being of everyone in communities means better lives for everyone.

“It’s a challenging time for families,” says Dr. Votruba-Drzal. “People who care about the well-being of their communities need to be aware of the effect of the pandemic on the broader structure of inequality in this country. The pandemic’s effects on children and families may endure well beyond the end of COVID-19.”


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