Reflections From the Executive Office

Income and Brain Size

Here’s a surprising report from one of my favorite daily e-newsletters, Exchange EveryDay, written primarily for child care operators. The original research is reported in Nature Neuroscience.

Income and Brain Size
April 7, 2015
“We’ve long known that children from affluent families get a head start that can translate into a long-lasting advantage, especially when it comes to academic achievement. Now, scientists have found what may be part of the explanation: Children who grow up in higher-income families appear to have larger brains. This is the shocking finding of a major new study of the effects of family income and parental education on child and adolescent brain development conducted by researchers from nine U.S. universities and reported by The Huffington Post.

“The researchers studied nearly 1,100 individuals between the ages of 3 and 20, collecting data on their socioeconomic situation and conducting MRI brain scans and cognitive tests measuring executive functions like self-control and anticipation of consequences. The results revealed a strong positive association between family income and brain surface area, largely in those brain areas that are linked to skills instrumental in learning and academic success. The brain of ‘the kid whose family makes less than $25,000 is about 6 percent smaller in surface area than the kid whose family made $150,000,’ said lead researcher, Elizabeth Sowell.

“Why the differences in brain size? Since the researchers controlled for genetic factors, it’s likely the advantage observed in children from higher-income families arose from other influences — such as their exposure to better nutrition, health care, schools, play areas, air quality, and other environmental factors known to play a role in brain development. The good news is that improving a disadvantaged child’s environment – through after-school programs, healthier school lunches, and other initiatives – may have a long-lasting positive effect on the child’s brain development and cognition.”

Contributed by Roslyn Duffy