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Poverty Zaps Kids’ Genetic Potential

Poverty Zaps Genetic Potential A new research study paints a sobering picture for individuals raised in a poor environment.

Scientists found children from poorer families do worse in school, are less likely to graduate from high school, and are less likely to go to college.

Researchers found that differences in aptitude presented as early as age 2. 

But it is not a genetic difference, rather something about the poorer children’s environment that keeps them from realizing their genetic potentials.

Past research has found that a gap between poor children and children from wealthier families opens up early in life, even before children enter formal education.

“Poor kids aren’t even doing as well in terms of school readiness — sounding out letters and doing other things that you would expect to be relevant to early learning,” said Elliot M. Tucker-Drob of the University of Texas at Austin, lead author of the paper. He and his colleagues, wanted to look even earlier — to see if they could find these differences in infants.

The researchers used data on about 750 pairs of fraternal and identical twins, from all over the country. The children’s mental abilities were tested at 10 months of age and again when they were 2 years old, with tasks like pulling a string to ring a bell, placing three cubes in a cup, matching pictures, and sorting pegs by color.

The children’s socioeconomic status was determined based on parents’ educational attainment, occupations, and family income.

At 10 months of age, children from poor families performed just as well as children from wealthier families. It was over the next 14 months that a gap emerged. By 2 years of age, children from wealthier families were scoring consistently higher than the children from poorer families.

The researchers went on to examine the extent to which genes were involved in the test scores. Among the 2-year-olds from wealthier families, identical twins, who share all of their genes, had much more similar test scores than fraternal twins, who share only half of their genes, thus indicating that genes were influencing their tests scores.

However, among 2-year-olds from poorer families, identical twins scored no more similar to one another than fraternal twins, suggesting that genes were not influencing their test scores. The researchers concluded that something about the poor children’s home life was suppressing their potential for cognitive development.

This study didn’t look specifically into why wealthy children improve more. It could be that poorer parents may not have the time or resources to spend playing with their children in stimulating ways.

A common goal of education policy is to decrease the achievement gap between poorer and wealthier children, said Tucker-Drob. “And I think the first step to achieving this goal is understanding the basis of these disparities,” he said. 

The study is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Poverty Zaps Kids’ Genetic Potential

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Poverty Zaps Kids’ Genetic Potential. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 5, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 1 Feb 2011)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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