Prof. discusses link between socioeconomic inequality and children’s brain development and the effects on legislation and policy

By Jacqueline Hayes, Collegian Staff

Kimberly Noble, associate professor of neuroscience and education at Columbia University, spoke on the link between socioeconomic inequality and children’s brain development on Thursday. 




The lecture, which took place from 1 to 2 p.m. in room 160 of the University Massachusetts East Events Hall, was centered on how the socioeconomic status gap emerges very early and only widens throughout the elementary school years, with the relationship between income and brain structure being strongest amongst disadvantaged children.

“Cognitive skills most connected to socioeconomic status are memory, language, executive function and visuospatial skills,” Noble said. “From kindergarten through adolescence, the greatest disparity is language skills. Children of more highly educated parents have better language skills by 21 months.”

According to Noble, these studies show just how early the effects of the socioeconomic status gap is detectable, which makes for a good case for early intervention.

“Most interventions are either family or school based interventions, but seeing as effects are apparent as soon as 21 months, these interventions might come in a little bit late. On top of that, these interventions are often very labor intensive and costly,” Noble said.

A recent research study, Noble mentioned, focused on another form of intervention, which gave low income mothers a debit card with a monthly stipend, free to spend the money however they wanted.

“The pilot study started with 30 low income mothers from New York City with a retention rate of 93.3 percent over 12 months. The intervention group showed preliminary benefits relative to the control group,” Noble explained. She also noted that the results of these research studies could have effects on legislation and policy implementation, where the government could give monthly income boosts to low income families with young children.

Regarding policy making, which would see the government moving toward income supplementation, Miriam Munoz, a second year PhD student in neuroscience and behavior, thought that it “would work, but implementing with policy would be the hard part. Getting people within the government to agree to that and what amount the stipend should be would seem difficult.”

Concerning the same question of whether the government should implement income supplementation, Dean E. Robinson, professor of political science, supported the idea.

“There absolutely should be a move towards this within the government,” Robinson said. “We have the worst child poverty rates of nearly all the nations we often compare ourselves, and as shown today, lessening the gap of income inequality may very well lead to a lesser disparity in socioeconomic status and the issues which arise from that.”

For Johnny Gallagher, a senior communication disorders and linguistics major, the lecture was beneficial as it explored topics discussed in his courses with more depth. He “found this lecture very interesting. I had known about some of these topics before coming as it has been discussed within my major, but seeing the in depth analysis and language development aspects was really worthwhile,”

Jacqueline Hayes is a Collegian can be reached at [email protected]