Worrisome signs of cognitive risks in poverty

June 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’m skeptical of studies that find children living in potentially stigmatized environments are cognitively at risk. But I concede that a growing number of good studies observe that our children living in persistent poverty seem to experience cognitive impacts.  The worst news:  This affects 15 million children and, consequently, America’s future. The better news: some studies suggest that  learning impacts that may exist can be countered if we can develop effective school interventions. Others believe that parenting support may make a difference.

The three studies I’m referencing are:

1) In 2009 Wired Science portrayed results of a study of 195 white kids this way: “A long-term study of cognitive development in lower- and middle-class students found strong links between childhood poverty, physiological stress and adult memory.” The researchers tested memory at 9, 13 and 17 years of age. They conjectured that early life stress, such as that experienced by many children in persistent poverty, has an impact on brain structure.

2) In 2011 more studies were announced.  In January, researchers tracking 750 pairs of fraternal and identical twins  determined that by age 2 cognitive differences were emerging between children of wealthy families and poor families.

3) In April, the National Library of Medicine, Medicine net, and many Science publications  reported on results of a British study following approx 19,000 children at 3 months, 3 years and 5 years of age.  Science Daily writes, “They conclude: ‘Persistent poverty is a crucial risk factor undermining children’s cognitive development — more so than family instability.'”

Persistent poverty is the risk factor not family instability. In other words poverty and not people living those lifestyles are what puts our nation’s children at risk. We’re no longer simply fighting to give equal education to all kids we’re talking about saving the intellectual capabilities and potential of all children. Poverty hurts. Now we’re learning new ways that it harms. Won’t you join me in giving time and energy to alleviate persistent poverty.  Help the children. Give them a chance for future success by getting involved in a local poverty relief program.

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