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Study: Poverty May Prevent Kids from Reaching Full Genetic Potential

Steven Vote

One of the age-old debates in parenting is the subject of a new study: the influence of nature versus nurture. An article in Bloomberg Businessweek reported on the study (performed at the Univ. of Texas at Austin and the Univ. of Virginia), which examined the effects of genetics and home environments on mental ability in 750 pairs of American twins, identical and fraternal and from different socio-economic levels, at ages 10 months and 2 years. At 10 months, the subjects were given cognitive tests and scored mostly the same. But at two years old, the results diverged. Children from wealthier households performed better than those from poorer homes.

This line explains best the crux of the study: "The study results, published in the January issue of the journal Psychological Science, don't suggest that children from wealthier families are genetically superior or smarter. These children simply have more opportunity to reach their potential, explained study author Elliott Tucker-Drob, an assistant professor of psychology."

Dr. Tucker-Drob’s conclusion is supported by numerous statistics on children’s access to books and the number of words kids read and hear in varying socio-economic households. A piece in The Wall Street Journal on this study said: "By the age of 3, children from wealthier households hear, on average, about 500,000 encouragements and 80,000 discouragements. The ratio is reversed in households on welfare."

Plus: A report on the early literacy crisis

This study isn't exactly groundbreaking—it’s widely known that children from wealthier households have more opportunities than those from poorer ones. But it does show that the achievement gap starts to widen as early as age two—and emphasizes the importance of early literacy and education. 


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