A studied published online in JAMA Pediatrics reveals that poverty negatively impacts brain development in preschool children.
The research team followed a group of children annually for 3-6 years prior to giving them a magnetic resonance imaging scan. After the brain scan, the researchers evaluated them annually for the next 5-10 years. The participants in the study included healthy preschoolers as well as those who showed signs of clinical depression. Those children living below poverty level had smaller white and cortical gray matter and decreased hippocampal and amygdala volumes. The hippocampus is the area of the brain that is related to memory forming, organizing, storing and spatial orientation; the amygdala is involved in the processing of emotions such as fear, anger and pleasure.
The researchers also discovered that supportive caregivers helped mitigate these outcomes while hostile child care workers exacerbated them, as did stressful life events.
The Washington University study supports earlier research. In 2008, the University of California Berkeley compared brain functions of wealthy 9-10 year olds with those of children living at or below poverty level. The differences were significant and nearly equivalent to brain damage resulting from a stroke. The researchers concluded that prefrontal brain function is somehow disrupted among poorer children.
In a paper covering the inequities among children living in poverty compared to other children, Princeton researchers discovered that children living below poverty were 1.5 times more likely to experience learning disabilities and developmental delays. These children scored 6-13 points lower on standardized tests pertaining to IQ, verbal ability and achievement. Additionally, the longer a child lives in impoverishment, the greater the differences in brain development and test scoring.
According to data gathered by the Urban Institute, more than 1 out of 5 children live at or below the poverty level; specifically this means these children live in households where cash income fails to exceed poverty thresholds.