Disadvantaged kids may have poor verbal skills
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Living in severely disadvantaged neighborhoods has a profound and lasting negative impact on children's verbal language skills, according to research published today.
"This is important because language skills are a proven indicator of success later in life," said study investigator Robert J. Sampson of Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
"What is surprising," he added, "is the durability of the effect, continuing even when the child moves out of the neighborhood," he added.
The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science Early Edition.
The study involved more than 2,000 children from the lower, middle and upper classes, who were between 6 and 12 years old and living in Chicago at the beginning of the study.
The researchers followed the children for 7 years starting in the mid-1990s as they moved in and out of neighborhoods in Chicago and to other parts of the United States. On three different occasions, they conducted interviews with the children and their caretakers and had the children take a vocabulary and reading test.
Sampson and colleagues focused their analyses on the 772 African-American children in the study because, they explain, almost one third of the black children were exposed to high "concentrated disadvantage" compared to virtually no white or Latino children.
The results showed that, by the end of the study, black children who lived in a disadvantaged neighborhood had fallen behind otherwise identical peers who did not live in these areas by about four points on an IQ test -- the equivalent of missing 1 year of school.
Growing up in an extremely disadvantaged environment has "detrimental and long-lasting consequences for black children," they continue. Investment should be made in "a more comprehensive approach to investing in and thereby improving" the verbal abilities of these children.
SOURCE: PNAS Early Edition, December 17, 2007.