Children’s cognitive development is held back by a poor neighborhood
Photo: Meriwether Lewis Elementary School. Creative Commons. 

A poor neighborhood holds back children’s cognitive development

By Child & Family Blog Editor and , | October 2017 

Compared to children in better-off areas, children living in a poor neighborhood do worse in math and language tests at ages 5-8, especially if they also live in poor households.

A poor neighborhood has fewer resources such as schools and healthcare, lower social support, less physical security and more crime.

Other research has shown that the longer children live in poor neighborhoods, the less they earn as adults. Previous studies have also found fewer effects of neighborhoods on measures of children’s development at younger ages.

The influence of neighborhood appears on test scores at the age of 5-8 even when controlling for household poverty and other family characteristics, though the associations between neighborhoods and children’s cognitive scores are small compared to those with family characteristics like income or parental education.

Poor children (i.e., those in very low-income homes) seem to be more harmed than others by growing up in poor neighborhoods, suggesting that boosting household income might help protect these children.

The study used data collected in by the US Department of Education, covering 18,000 children who started kindergarten in 2010-11. Children were tested four times: twice in kindergarten, once in first grade (6-7 years), and once in second grade (7-8 years).

The data also included teacher assessments of children’s behaviour – self-control, attention and focus, social skills, etc. But, unlike math and reading scores, behaviour was not consistently associated with neighborhood poverty.

The study adds to the evidence that children living in poorer neighborhoods need additional support to succeed in school.


Morrissey TW & Vinopal KM (2017), Neighborhood poverty and children’s academic skills and behaviour in early elementary school, Journal of Marriage and Family

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