According to the United Nations children's agency UNICEF, one in three children living in the the United States are in poverty. While in the UK statistics from the Institute for Fiscal Studies are expected to show a rise in child poverty from 2.3 million in 2013 to 2.6 million in 2014. Child poverty is pervasive across Canada. More than 1.3 million Canadian children live below the poverty line — a number that has grown, not shrunk, since 1989. The number of Canadian children who rely on food banks would fill 6,200 school buses.
The proverbial silver spoon doesn’t give you a brain advantage, but being born entirely spoonless definitely puts you at risk for a disadvantage. Scientific research proves the effects of being born into poverty, or wealth, affect everything in our lives, right down to the development of our brains.
The effects of extreme poverty in the developing world have long since been proven. We know beyond a doubt, for example, that severe malnutrition leads to stunted growth and delayed development in children. However, research published in March in the scientific journal Nature Neuroscience shows even minor poverty, such as you’d find in the “poor” areas of any Canadian city, can have significant effects on human development.
Researchers from nine American universities and hospitals co-operated on a study of more than 1,000 individuals, ages three to 20, from different socio-economic backgrounds. In addition to administering IQ and skill tests, the researchers conducted DNA tests and MRI brain scans. What they found was stunning. Children or adolescents from low-income families, whose parents had lower levels of education, were at higher risk of having less well-developed brains than the individuals from middle- or high-income families with better-educated parents. Interestingly, there was little difference between the brains of high-versus average-income individuals.
A 2014 paper from the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child at Harvard University found that stresses related to poverty — “overcrowding, noise, substandard housing, separation from parent(s), exposure to violence” — can generate neurotoxins that damage a child’s developing brain.
In a study of low-income children in the United States, those with more family instability and an emotionally unavailable mother early in life had higher levels of a stress hormone and more learning delays. The research ties specific patterns of the hormone cortisol, released into the bloodstream in times of stress, with cognitive abilities for children in poverty. “Extensive research has shown that many low-income children face a variety of social stressors, such as chaotic and unpredictable family environments and problematic parenting practices, as economic hardship is known to place considerable burden on the family system,” Suor told Reuters Health