1. In children entering kindergarten, the lowest and highest socioeconomic quintiles had a difference of 33 and 37 percentile points in reading and math scores, respectively.
2. Differences in family background, health factors, home learning environment, parenting style/beliefs, and early education accounted for over half of the gap noted above.
Evidence Rating Level: 2 (Good)
Study Rundown: Previous research has shown that upon entering kindergarten, children display varying cognitive abilities influenced by socioeconomic status. However, few studies have evaluated independent factors associated with children’s socioeconomic status and subsequent cognitive functioning. The current study sought to examine socioeconomic gradients in reading and math ability at kindergarten age and their association with factors such as family, health, home learning, parenting, and early education. Results showed a large discrepancy between reading and math skills in children from low and higher socioeconomic classes. Multiple factors, such as home learning environment and family background, were found to be associated with this large gradient, although a significant percentage of the gap was left unexplained. This study is limited by results representing associations, not causal mechanisms. Also, these variables only explain half of the socioeconomic status gradients. Nonetheless, providers should use these findings to intervene when inequalities in child development are appreciated.
Study Author, Dr. Kandyce Larson, PhD, talks to 2 Minute Medicine: Senior Researcher, American Academy of Pediatrics.
“This study shows a very steep gradient by socioeconomic status in children’s reading and math ability by the time they enter kindergarten. The factors shaping these gradients are multiple and complex. There is no single, simple policy solution, but the study points to the importance of supporting the family and early child development, including where pediatricians have a unique role. Early literacy promotion activities are a critical component of primary care practice for children and efforts to link medical homes with community programs like Early Head Start and home visiting services can help connect families with needed supports. The rapidly expanding literature on social determinants and the importance of early brain development for life-long health points to a need for health care systems oriented toward optimizing developmental capacity for all children.”
In-Depth [retrospective cohort study]: Data from 6600 participants in the U.S. Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort were used for analysis. In-person interviews were conducted with the primary caregiver, while direct parenting and child development assessments were done in the home at ages 9 months and 2, 4, and 5-6 years. Socioeconomic groups were divided into quintiles with 1 representing the lowest. The lowest and highest quintiles for reading and math scores were found to differ by 33 and 37 percentile points respectively. Children in the lowest quintile were more likely to have younger and single mothers. Children in the highest quintile were more likely to engage in daily family reading, use a home computer, and to attend preschool. Parents in the highest quintile were most likely to have rules about bedtime, food, chores, and also to have the highest aspirations for their child’s future. Family background, health, home learning environment, parenting style/beliefs, and early care and education accounted for 52 and 57% of the gaps in socioeconomic status for reading and math, respectively.
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