Poverty and Brain Development in Early Childhood

National Center for Children in Poverty

Researchers have gathered new evidence on the importance of the first years of life for children’s emotional and intellectual development. Unfortunately, millions of American children are poor during these crucial years. More than one in five of America’s children under age three lived in poverty in 1997. These 2.5 million poor children face a greater risk of impaired brain development due to their exposure to a number of risk factors associated with poverty. Many poor young children are resilient and able to overcome tremendous obstacles but poverty poses serious threats to children’s brain development. Recent advances in the study of brain development show a sensitive period when the brain is most able to respond to and grow from exposure to environmental stimulation. This window of optimal brain development is from the prenatal period to the first years of a child’s life. While all children are potentially vulnerable to a number of risk factors which can impede brain development during this sensitive period, a disproportionate number of children in poverty are actually exposed to such risk factors. These risk factors can influence the brain through multiple pathways.


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National Center for Children in Poverty, Columbia University

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National Center for Children in Poverty
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February 22, 2019