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Growing Up Poor Zaps Your Mental Abilities by the Time You're Two

A new study finds family income plays a role in a child's cognitive development, and in case you didn't know, rich people don't have better genes.


A new study finds family income plays a role in a child's cognitive development.

Psychologists at the University of Texas at Austin gave a series of mental tests to 750 sets of young twins between 10 months and 2 years old. They found that half of the gains that wealthier children show on tests can be attributed to their genes. Fine. That's not shocking, but it's not the case for children from poorer families, who already lag behind their peers by age 2. That cohort in the study showed almost no improvements driven by their genetic makeup. If you are poor, then your mental development starts to stagnate before you even reach pre-school.


The lead author, Professor Elliot Tucker-Drob, makes a point of reminding us that his findings do not suggest that children from wealthier families are genetically superior or smarter. They simply have more opportunities to reach their potential. That's his lesson from this. So what exactly are those opportunities? That's what we need to know.

The study notes that wealthier parents are often able to provide better educational resources and spend more time with their children but doesn't conclude what factors, in particular, help their children reach their genetic potentials. That's the follow-up study Tucker-Drob is already planning. But these findings offer another a pretty obvious scientific example of why breaking the cycle of poverty is so difficult and why offering all children access to early childhood development programs is so important if we want to be a land of equal opportunity.

Image: (cc) two young boys in Cuba by Flickr user hoyasmeg.

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