Socioeconomic Status Affecting Brain Structure: Being Poor Shrinks Brains From the Moment of Birth

For years there has been speculation into the evolution and development of intelligence in humans,  and a recent study into family income, parental education and the subsequent development of children’s brains has revealed something scientists have been considering a possibility for a long time. Being poor actually shrinks the brain from birth.

Nature Or Nurture?

It comes down to the old psychological/sociological conundrum, is it nature or nurture  that shapes who we truly are? Obviously the way we turn out and grow into adults is a mixture of both, but could there also be a socioeconomic factor playing a part in the child development process?

The research team behind the study was led by neuroscientists Kimberly Noble from Columbia University in New York City and Elizabeth Sowell from Children’s Hospital from Los Angeles, California. They understood that the socioeconomic status of a child, comprising of parental income, educational achievements and occupations are strongly linked to social-cognitive development in their offspring. They knew that these processes are vital for social skills, language skills, self regulation and memory efficiency.


The team imaged 1,099 brains of children, adolescents and young adults across the United States. They took samples from different age groups so as to make links between socioeconomic status and the development of the brain. The Study was published in Nature on the 30th March.

The study confirmed previous research carried out on 44 children that were confirmed to show similar signs of reduced brain capacity depending on the economic bracket of their families. this study showed that children from families within the lowest income bracket (wages of less that $25,000 per year) had 6%  less surface area of the brain compared to children from families residing in the highest income bracket (wages of %150,000 per year or more).

Money Not Nuture

In the past it was though that it was the amount of time spent with children that shaped their intelligence and brain structure but a study being published in April in the Journal of Marriage and Family has found there to be no link between amount of time spent with children and successful development! In fact they found it detrimental for mothers to over-spend time with  their children if they are suffering from stress anxiety or sleep deprived.

Due to these findings experts have discussed the factors of nutrition and access to better educational systems, to be a focus point for the future. But for now while we know money doesn’t buy happiness, apparently it can get us bigger brained children.