Children from low-income families in the US and Britian are disadvantaged in school, according to research just now coming out from the University’s Centre for Market and Public Organisation. From a press release:

…According to the study, children from low-income backgrounds are raised in environments that fail to promote their cognitive, social and health development adequately and, as a result, they are more likely to begin school with deficits in their learning ability and social behaviour.

The key findings of the research are that:

  • The poorest fifth of children in the UK are equally as disadvantaged as their US counterparts when they start school
  • Low-quality parenting can determine the ‘school readiness’ of children from low-income backgrounds in the United States
  • Higher-income mothers interact more positively with their children when the children are as young as nine months old

The study analyses data on around 19,000 children born in the UK in 2000 (the Millennium Cohort Study) and parallel data on around 10,000 children born in the United States in 2001 (the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study Birth Cohort). The children in both studies were followed from the age of nine months onwards, and completed tests in language, literacy and mathematics skills at ages three, four or five.

The research reveals that there are sizeable gaps in children’s cognitive ‘school readiness’, and that the gaps are of comparable magnitude in the UK and the US. The poorest fifth of children in both countries score on average in the 32nd to 35th percentile across the tests but there are differences between the two countries in the relationship between income and cognitive outcomes among better-off families. The gap between the bottom fifth and the middle fifth is smaller in the United States, while the difference between the middle and the richest fifth is much larger.

So, although the UK appears to be relatively successful in promoting equality among children in families with incomes above a moderate level, the poorest 20 per cent are equally as disadvantaged, in relative terms, as the equivalent American children.

Further analysis of the American children suggests that differences in the parenting of low and higher-income children are key to understanding the income-related gaps in children’s cognitive test scores.

The research also shows that higher-income mothers interact more positively with their children when they are as young as nine months old, show greater sensitivity to their needs, are less intrusive and provide more cognitive stimulation. These types of behaviours are then strongly related to children’s performance at the time of entry to school, and in particular to language development.

The study also finds evidence that participation in Head Start (an education programme targeted at low-income children) boosts the performance of the most disadvantaged children, and so reduces the gaps to some extent.

Comments

  1. #1 Azkyroth
    December 26, 2008

    In other news, recent research suggests that water may be wet.

  2. #2 Romeo Vitelli
    December 26, 2008

    So parents working two jobs have less time to spend stimulating their children. Who knew?

  3. #3 The Urban Scientist
    December 26, 2008

    Will this confirmation of well known fact and substaintitated classim result in some real action? I hope so.

  4. #4 Nick
    December 26, 2008

    As much as I think this study is silly because it should be common sense, I welcome the information it provides and I hope we see more studies like this. We need to push government hard to try to get this problem solved. Here in California they just push more tests on the kids and offer a bit more funding for schools in low income areas. But all of that doesn’t matter if the parents of these kids don’t care about the education their children are getting. Reducing poverty will do more to help this problem than any amount of money spent directly on schools.

  5. #5 jay
    December 26, 2008

    The research also shows that higher-income mothers interact more positively with their children when they are as young as nine months old, show greater sensitivity to their needs, are less intrusive and provide more cognitive stimulation.

    Maybe that’s why they’re ‘higher-income’ mothers. Because their mothers also hand good instinctive parenting skills.

    A lot of ‘higher income’ mothers are pretty busy too, but make time for their kids. I wonder if to some extent, cause and effect might be being confused here because of ideology. Poverty causes poor parenting, rather than poor parenting causes poverty.

  6. #6 Stacy S.
    December 26, 2008

    Makes a good case for earlier education, don’t you think?
    Here in Florida, they started a voluntary pre-kindergarten program a couple of years ago – specifically to help get kids ready for school. I guess we’ll know in about 10 years if it is doing any good.

    http://www.floridajobs.org/earlylearning/VPK%20Program.html

  7. #7 John J. McKay
    December 26, 2008

    At first glance, I thought the title said “chicken from low-income families” and I was excited to think that someone finally shared my concern for the plight of disadvantaged poultry. But, alas, I was doomed to be disappointed once again.

  8. #8 Stephanie Z
    December 27, 2008

    Jay, do you really not have a clue as to the difference between having to work constantly to survive and being “pretty busy,” much less the difference that being able to afford high-quality child care makes?

  9. #9 jay
    December 27, 2008

    Jay, do you really not have a clue as to the difference between having to work constantly to survive and being “pretty busy,” much less the difference that being able to afford high-quality child care makes?

    There is a difference, but you are assuming (without justification) that all the poor parenting is done by parents ‘working constantly to survive’ which describes the ‘working poor’, generally NOT the poorest percentiles being discussed (it’s not clearly delineated there–I wonder how closely they looked at that). You may well find that the children of ‘working poor’ often do fairly well for themselves, certainly some of the older folks in my own neighborhood fit in that category. Their parents, though poor, made time for them.

    My point (abbreviated as it was) was that the cause and effect relationship being ideologically espoused here is not necessarily correct. For example people who are not good learners, or people who are less intelligent, or even less ambitious, are far more likely to end up in poverty, and to have children who are similarly inclined. Of course many people in poverty are there for circumstantial reasons, but they follow a different track (and I’m willing to bet they are not the dominant population in the ‘poor learners’ catagory above).

    It’s long been observed that there are two general classes of poor people, for many it’s temporary and they (or their children) get out of that trap. Others seem to stay there as a constant state of being.

    Some followup studies for ‘early intervention’ have shown that while there seems to be a jump in acheivement, by the time the child has hit their teen years, they’ve largely regressed back. It’s not a magic fix.

  10. #10 Stephanie Z
    December 27, 2008

    Jay, you’re the one making assumptions–in this case, that work equals what one gets paid for. Do you know how much work it takes to get around without reliable private transportation? Do you know how much work it takes to put together meals when they don’t come whole or in a box? Do you know how much work it takes to do laundry when the machines aren’t in your living space?

    Do you know how much work it takes to buy clothes for the family when they’re used instead of neatly arranged on racks for you to just pick the right size? Do you know how much work it takes to move when you lose your housing? Do you know how much work a disability is? Do you know how much work it takes to find help when you can’t just buy it?

    Being poor is bloody hard work.

    And as for your no magic fix, duh. Why would you expect people who need some extra help to continue to do well when you stop providing it to them? It’s not like the grinding work of being poor stops at that point.

  11. #11 Greg Laden
    December 27, 2008

    Or you have a car because where you live public transit does not do it, but no money to have it maintained the usual way (like, with a mechanic) which in turn can lead to a whole other set of complications and expenses.

    No meals in a box and no meals in a fancy resturant and no meals at Perkins or at the Trough and Brew. And the meals you can afford are not the kind that would be recommended for the children because they are low in various nice-to-get nutrients.

    And so on and so forth. Stephanie, stop making being poor sound so easy and fun!

  12. #12 Stephanie Z
    December 27, 2008

    I know, Greg, I know. It’s just that Jay sounded like he could use a vacation. I got a little carried away, I guess.

  13. #13 Joel
    December 27, 2008

    It’s long been observed that there are two general classes of poor people, for many it’s temporary and they (or their children) get out of that trap. Others seem to stay there as a constant state of being.

    Would you care to tell us where this comes from? On the surface it appears to be just black and white thinking of either you, or someone else. Apparently, there are good poor people who can dig themselves out of the hole, and the bad poor people who are simply unwilling to make the effort.

    This is a message that people in poverty deal with constantly, subtly and not so subtly. If you were not a(n) insert adjective here you could make something of yourself! As Stephanie and Greg have alluded to, when you live where success is the quality revered above all others, to be poor is quite the sin.

  14. #14 Anne Gilbert
    December 27, 2008

    Stephanie, Greg, Jay, and all:

    There are, indeed, some kinds of “temporary poverty”; e.g. being unemployed for a while, as many people are from time to time. Or being a student, with the expectation of getting a decent job after one gets a degree. But if you have no education to speak of and no good “skills”, and you have to work several jobs just to make ends meet, as many people do, where is the “quality time” for your children going to come from? Especially if you are dead-tired after your work day? Poor people love their children too, and want better for them, as the stories of many, many, low income parents and children attest(you can find such stories just about anywhere). But the odds against such betterment are high, and for many, simply insurmountable for those in poverty situations as Greg and Stephanie Z have pointed out. It also doesn’t help that the parents themselves, while wanting better for their kids, often don’t know how to go about doing this.
    Anne G

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