On: June 1, 2021

Children in poverty hear fewer words early in life. The famous Hart and Risely study in 1995 found they hear 30 million fewer words, which sets back their literacy development, so crucial to success in school later.

Living in poverty affects brain development

Living in poverty and the toxic stress it creates can slow a child’s brain development and is linked to poorer language, memory, executive function, and social-emotional skills, including the ability to pay attention, manage impulses, and incorporate new information—all essential to school success. One study found that a state gains $392,000 (2007 dollars) for every child who  graduates high school from higher tax revenue and lower crime, welfare, and health costs. Toxic stress can also increase the risk of long-term health problems such as heart disease. More here.

Children in poverty are more likely to be abused or neglected

Children whose parents are facing economic or social stress, who are isolated with few friends or neighbors to call on, who are young or single are more often victims of child abuse and neglect. Abuse and neglect has also been shown to produce higher incidence of depression, substance abuse, and criminal activity among adults.

Children in poverty are more likely to live in unhealthy neighborhoods.

The chronic stress of living in a violent neighborhood harms children’s brain development and their social and emotional development. Poorly funded schools in low-income neighborhoods also hinder opportunities. It’s one reason moving away from distressed neighborhoods early in life leads to strong gains in school later on.

Unsafe, unaffordable housing harms children.

Frequent moves and poor housing are linked to poorer health and developmental delays among children. Unsafe housing with lead, vermin, or other safety hazards increase rates of asthma and other health threats.

Children who grow up in poverty fare poorer in life

Children growing up in poverty completed 2 fewer years of school. As adults they worked less and earned less and were twice as likely as better off adults to have poor overall physical and mental health. Men who grow up in poverty are twice as likely to be arrested.