Children in Poverty Are Hearing Less Words Than Children From Higher Income

Children in Poverty Are Hearing Less Words Than Children From Higher Income

By Cindy Lima

Children in poverty are always at a disadvantage comparing to children from higher income families. However, researchers have found that language plays a large role in these children’s future.


Researchers in the early 2000’s published a report called “The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3.” 42 families took part in the study with children ages 7 to 9. Researchers found that children’s vocabularies were directly connected with the words they heard from their parent’s. The researchers heard the children talk for an hour, once a month for two years. The results were impacting to the children’s future and academic lives.

Children living in poverty heard only a third of the words that children of higher income families did. According to the study’s researchers “The number of words a child is exposed to between ages 0 and 3 is significantly correlated to the child’s ultimate IQ and academic success.”  The words most often heard by children living in poverty were typically negative. These words were particularly words of discouragement which affected the children long term. The child’s self-esteem and academic life decreased and a likely cause could be hearing these negative words.

Moving Forward

Cities and policymakers have made people more aware about this issue and have encouraged parents to talk to their children more often. For example, in San Jose, CA a parent-education program called “Habla Conmigo” that targets low-income Latin families, informs parents about the benefits of talking to their children. The program supports mothers into early brain development and helps them learn new strategies in order to engage their children verbally. Similar pilot studies are in the process of being launch within the country.

Mothers in these programs are communicating more and using higher quality language with their children. Researchers state that the results are promising. Children’s lives can easily improve by speaking to them and showing them higher language skills.