Children from low-income families hear tens of millions fewer words at home due to lack of money

Children from low-income families hear tens of millions fewer words at home due to lack of money

While deficiencies in parenting have long been blamed on what is called the "word gap" (talking less to children), new research from UC Berkeley implies the economic context in which it takes place. parenting, in other words, the "wealth gap."

The findings, published in the journal Developmental Science , provide the first evidence that parents can talk less with their children when they experience financial hardship. In other words, the "word gap" would not be fixed so much by teaching parents to better educate their children, but by giving them more money .

Words or financial gap?

The term "word gap" was coined in the early 1990s when University of Kansas researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risley tracked verbal interactions in the homes of 42 families to study early language development in the first three children’s years. While some have questioned Hart and Risley’s methodology, their basic finding has been replicated many times.

The results showed that the children of professional families heard an average of 2,150 words every hour; while those babies belonging to working class and poor families heard 1,250 and 600 words per hour on average, respectively. Consequently, at 3 years of age, children from professional families had already heard an average of 30 million words more than children from families with the poorest economic resources and the most basic education.

In the present study, the preliminary results of the study give credence to the educational and development benefits of government programs that reduce poverty. According to Mahesh Srinivasan , professor of psychology at UC Berkeley:

Existing interventions to close the word gap have often focused on improving parenting skills. But our findings suggest that relieving parents of their financial burdens, such as through direct cash transfers, could also substantially change the way they relate to their children.

In the first experiment , the researchers sought to observe how parents would interact with their children (in this case, 3-year-olds) after parents were asked to describe times when they had experienced financial hardship. Instead, a control group of parents was asked to describe other recent activities. Of the 84 parents in the study, those in the experimental group who described their experiences of financial shortage spoke less with their 3-year-olds during laboratory observations than did parents who reflected on other forms of shortage (such as not having enough fruit).

The second experiment used existing data collected through LENA technology, small devices that function as a "speech pedometer" worn by children that recorded their conversations and counted the words they heard and said. As the researchers predicted, the analyzes revealed that parents engaged in fewer turns of conversation with their children at the end of the month, a time that generally coincides with a shortage of money.