Poverty Affects the Cognitive Skills of Children

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Poverty Affects the Cognitive Skills of Children

Children who grew up in a poverty-stricken environment tend to have lower score on cognitive skill test / Photo by CC0 Public Domain via Maxpixel.net


A study by researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health in the United States recently found that children who were born and grew up in poverty-stricken or socially and economically challenged environment are more likely to have lower scores on cognitive skills test when they grow up. These cognitive skills include thinking, learning, reasoning, remembering, and problem-solving.

Pavla Cermakova, the study's author, said that the brain also ages the way that the body does and other brains "age faster than others." She added that a growing body of evidence shows that the brain's aging process may arise throughout a person's lifetime beginning in their childhood.

"Our study looked at a very large number of people from different backgrounds and geographic locations and found that social and economic disadvantages in childhood may indeed have a negative impact on cognitive skills," she said.

The study was published in the September 26, 2018, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, according to Science Daily.

Poverty Affects Cognitive Skills

The researchers assessed data on 20,244 people from 16 countries in Europe who also participated in a larger study called the Survey on Health, Ageing, and Retirement. At the start of the study, the average age of those who participated was 71. They were interviewed and tested in the initial stage of the study and then once again about five years later.

In determining their cognitive skills, the participants took tests that assessed their verbal and memory skills. These tests include their ability to name animals, learn new words, and remembering after a delay. Moving on their socioeconomic status during their childhood years, the participants were asked about their households when they were 10. The researchers used a method called "life history calendar," which is a procedure used to enhance the accuracy of recalled information.

Out of the 20,244 participants, the researchers found that 844 people, or 4 percent of the whole group, have experienced socioeconomic hardships when they were young. They also found that these participants have lower scores in the cognitive skills set for them. Moreover, they acquired less education, were to a lower extent employed, and were less likely to have had a companion at home. The 4 percent also scored higher in symptoms of depression, were physically inactive, and are less healthy.

However, although the cognitive skills of those who were exposed to poverty are lower compared to those who were fairly well-off, researchers did not find a connection between the socio-economic hardship in childhood and the downturn of the cognitive skills over time. Cermakova says that the environment that a person grew up in reflects the level of their cognitive skills when they are old and that it is only slightly explained by educational attainment, mental health, or other lifestyle factors. 

"We believe that the focus of strategies aiming to protect cognitive health should be shifted into childhood, taking into account that children facing social and economic challenges should be provided with more resources to counter the disadvantages they face," the researcher said.


Children who are exposed to poverty have a lower cognitive skills compared to who are fairly well-off / Photo by Mr.Cheangchai Noojuntuk via Shutterstock.com


Other Effects of Poverty

Aside from the cognitive skills, poverty could also cause children to experience mental health issues. According to The Children's Society in the United Kingdom, kids who are living in an economically challenged environment are likely to feel hopeless towards their future compared to their prosperous peers. Due to their low income, possible debt, and poor quality housing, children's mental health are likely to be put at risk.

They are also likely to grow up as poor adults. In an article on pbs.com, studies have found that children in poverty struggle to escape this environment when they grow up. A 2009 study by the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University showed that the tendency of a child to being poor when they grow up is more likely if they remain in poverty for a long period of time.

It is also harder for children to finish their education if they are in a poor environment. A 2017 report from the Urban Institute found that only 62 percent of children who were in poverty for at least half of their childhood was able to attain their high school diploma by age 20. This is compared to the 90 percent of those who never experienced the same conditions.

Moreover, a 2016 report by the American Academy of Pediatrics said that children who grow up poor have a higher tendency of being injured in accidents and are five times more likely to die because of them. The report noted that poverty-stricken families are likely to live in homes that have dysfunctional or no smoke detectors at all as well as "open fires, unprotected windows, and unsafe roofs or stairs."

“Children in poor neighborhoods are at increased risk of cycling accidents, pedestrian injuries, falls, burns, poisonings and chemical burns,” the report noted.



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