Association of Child Poverty, Brain Development, and Academic Achievement

Source: Nicole L. Hair, Jamie L. Hanson, Barbara L. Wolfe, Seth D. Pollak, JAMA Pediatrics, Online First, Published online July 20, 2015

Low-income students are now a majority of schoolchildren attending public schools in the United States. Data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics show that 51% of students across US public schools were from low-income families in 2013. Socioeconomic disparities in school readiness and academic performance are well documented. Children living in poverty have lower scores on standardized tests of academic achievement, poorer grades in school, and lower educational attainment. These patterns persist into adulthood, ultimately contributing to low wages and income. Moreover, increased exposure to poverty in childhood is tied to greater deficits in these domains. Despite numerous studies demonstrating the relationship between family resources and children’s educational outcomes, little is known about mechanisms underlying the influence of poverty on children’s learning and achievement. In the current study, we tested whether atypical structural development in several areas of the brain tied to school readiness skills may have mediated the relationship between childhood poverty and impaired academic performance. Our hypotheses were motivated by the widespread environmental inequities (both physical and psychological) faced by children living in poverty along with increasing evidence that environmental stimulation, parental nurturance, and early life stress affect brain growth and functioning.

Conclusions and Relevance: The influence of poverty on children’s learning and achievement is mediated by structural brain development. To avoid long-term costs of impaired academic functioning, households below 150% of the federal poverty level should be targeted for additional resources aimed at remediating early childhood environments.
Related:
Editorial: Poverty’s Most Insidious Damage: The Developing Brain
Source: Joan L. Luby, JAMA Pediatrics, Online First, Published online July 20, 2015