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Teachers College, Columbia University
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New Study Shows How Preschoolers' Thinking and Behavior Influenced by Family Income

New Study Shows How Preschoolers' Thinking and Behavior Influenced by Family Income

A new study by Jeanne Brooks-Gunn and Miriam Linver of Teachers College, with W. Jean Yeung of New York University, looks at the effects of family income on young children's cognitive development and behavior. As expected, children from higher income families scored better on cognitive tests and had fewer behavioral problems. The researchers looked at different ways in which family income affects children's developmental outcomes, and suggested possible family service programs to help children from low-income families.

The study found that much of the correlation between high income and children's cognitive development could be explained by the ability of higher income families to provide more stimulating learning environments. Higher income parents can afford better living conditions and learning materials, activities such as visits to museums, adequate food, and high-quality child care. Associations between low income and children's development depended largely on levels of economic instability in the family. Low-income mothers were more likely to be emotionally distressed as a result of economic pressure, and more likely to be less supportive and use punishment such as spanking.

Yeung said, "To promote all-around healthy development in children, a multi-pronged approach that offers a package of services to families that include not only cash benefits or earning supplements, but also services that are aimed at promoting family literacy, reducing parental stress, improving parenting behavior, and providing affordable quality child care will be most effective."

The researchers acknowledge that additional factors, such as mother's cognitive ability, ethnicity, and child's birth weight, also impact a child's cognitive development and life chances. The study was supported by a research grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD); a Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research HHS-ASPE/Census Bureau Small Grant; the NICHD Research Network for Family and Child Well-being; and the Michigan Interdisciplinary Center on Social Inequalities, Mind and Body.

 

The article, entitled "Study Offers First Glimpse of How Family Income Affects Pre-Schoolers' Cognitive Abilities and Behavior" appeared in the November 12th NYU Press Releases.

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