A long literature in economics concerns itself with differential allocations of resources to different children within the family unit. In a study of approximately 1,500 very disadvantaged families with children in Boston, Chicago, and San Antonio from 1999 to 2005, significant differences in levels of food allocation, as measured by an indicator of food “insecurity,” are found across children of different ages and genders. Using answers to unique survey questions for a specific child in the family, food insecurity levels are found to be much higher among older boys and girls than among younger ones, and to be sometimes higher among older boys than among older girls. Differential allocations are strongly correlated with the dietary and nutritional needs of the child. However, the differences in allocation appear only in the poorest families with the lowest levels of money income and family resources in general, and most differences disappear in significance or are greatly reduced in magnitude when resources rise to only modest levels. Differences in food insecurity across different types of children therefore appear to be a problem primarily only among the worst-off families.

Document Type

Research Paper

Publication Date


Discussion Paper Number

DP 2017-01

Notes/Citation Information

This project was supported with a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture contract number AG-3198- B-10-0028. Support from the Hopkins Population Center under NICHD grant R24 HD042854 is also acknowledged. The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the authors and not of any sponsoring agency.