The Effects of Child Poverty on Their Cognitive and Social Development

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The Effects of Poverty on Children’s Cognitive and Social Development

Sheehan Gilbert-Burne
Word Count: 1650

Question 2: Discuss the effects of poverty on children’s cognitive and social development and the extent to which effects might extend into adulthood

Poverty is a global issue that has been at the forefront of economic debate for over a century. Left wing politicians and anti-poverty organisations around the world still adamantly fight for a more equal economic split, pointing towards research showing the disadvantages poverty creates for those living in it. This research has grown rapidly since the 1970’s and many different factors have been targeted in the attempt to examine the effects poverty has on society. One of the key areas of investigation is the influence poverty has on children and how living in poverty impacts children’s cognitive and social development.

In 2010, census studies showed that in the United States 22% of American children were living below the poverty threshold (National Poverty Center. 2010). These thresholds are determined every year by the Census Bureau and represent the minimum annual amount of income required to support families of various sizes (National Poverty Center. 2010). As children are dependent on others to gain their basic needs, they are at risk of being disadvantaged from living in poverty especially as they are going through major cognitive and social development (Brooks-Gunn & Duncan, 1997). A large amount of research has been conducted to identify the potential disadvantages and there effects on children’s cognitive and social development.

Guo & Harris (2000) investigated the influence of five disadvantages that are linked to poverty and looked at how each impact a child’s cognitive development. These were cognitive stimulation, parenting style, physical environment, child health at birth and childhood health (Guo & Harris, 2000). The two main conclusions from the study were that it isn’t the lack of income directly that has an effect on cognitive development but that all five of the disadvantages associated with poverty have significant negative effects on children’s cognitive development (Guo & Harris, 2000). Indicating that a family may live below the poverty threshold but if they don’t suffer the disadvantages that are usually associated with poverty such as a poor home environment then the children shouldn’t be as negatively affected. The second conclusion was that cognitive stimulation was found to be the key area in linking cognitive development with poverty. Cognitive stimulation has a large positive link with cognitive development, however poverty has a large negative impact on cognitive stimulation therefore indicating the negative effect poverty can have on children’s cognitive development (Guo & Harris, 2000). Another study supports these findings, Smith, Brooks-Gunn & Klebanov (1997) compared differences between children in families with income less than half the poverty threshold and families more than 1.5 times above the threshold. They found that the children in poverty scored between 6 – 13 points lower on an IQ test then those children out of poverty (Smith et al, 1997). The study also found that the difference in cognitive ability could be seen as early as 2 years old although the differences were smaller. Nevertheless the findings suggest that poverty effects children’s cognitive development from an early age (Smith et al, 1997).

The physical environment was another major disadvantage shown in the Guo and Harris (2000) study, which is supported by Evans (2004) who found that children in poverty have to confront more problems in their environment than children out of poverty. These problems include being exposed to more family issues, violence, instability, and overcrowded households (Evans, 2004). Also they are more likely to experience less social support, have less responsive parents and...
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