How does Income Affect Childhood Brain Development? | Kimberly Noble

Neuroscientist and pediatrician Kimberly Noble discuss the effect of income on childhood brain development. The experiences in childhood have a great chance of causing mental and physical problems in childhood life.
This is known as the ACE score. Which is a score that tallies childhood abuse, neglect and other childhood experiences for childhood experiences such as physical abuse, molestation, witnessing domestic violence, etc.

There’s also a Ted Talk on the ACE Score.

The common sense of Socio-economic class can relate to the adverse living experience that negatively affects childhood development and intelligence. Because developing off Ramen noodle packets is way more difficult compared to a nutritious diet.

Kimberley Noble how lower income levels may negatively affect childhood development.

Defining Intelligence

Study checks surface area of the cerebral cortex, that does most of the cognitive heavy lifting.

Then she states, “larger cortical surface area is often associated with higher intelligence”.

Viewers may give her the benefit of the doubt. However, as a neuroscientist, ignoring the different types of intelligence seems unprofessional. Even though she implies cognitive intelligence later in her presentation.

1.) Over Generalization of Income Inequality

“Link between family income and children’s brain structure was strongest at the lowest income levels”, said Kimberly

The issue with Kimberley Noble’s equation. Being a poor child equals less intelligence in brain development is highly misleading.

I say this for many reasons. She takes too much of a focus on the correlation versus the actual causation of income inequality and poor childhood development.

We need to take into consideration the many reasons certain groups of people are in poverty and have lower income.

Single mothers, mentally ill, refugees and blacks/Hispanic minorities in western countries.

Study shows that median income is 50% larger for those without disabilities. Playing a key factor in the groups of people raising a child.

For example, as a single mother considering the stress of looking after a child, paying childcare expenses and finding a decent income. Often children are neglected due to this issue.

Next, the test subjects were too broad, and she may have overlooked a key factor in income. Single parents.

“dollar for dollar relatively small differences in family income were associated with proportionately greater differences in brain structure among the most disadvantaged families”

This means, for poorer families, a dollar increase in family income makes a larger difference for child brain development.

“Intuitively that makes sense, an extra $20,000 for a family only earning $20,000 dollars a year would likely make a remarkable difference in their day to day lives,” said Kimberly.

Income inequality is never that simple. The money can’t be as much of a major factor in 1st world countries like Canada and the U.S.A. Where there are social assistance programs.

Children can still be well fed. The issue lies again in what families are making such a small income and why? $20,000 a year is one parent working a minimum wage job. I’m assuming it’s a family of one she is referring to, and not the family average of four: two adults, two children.

2.) Not referencing Location

The study takes 1000’s of children-adolescents from different places across the United States.


Kimberly says “Tremendous variability from one child to the next” when describing that many children from lower income families. had a higher intelligence to those from larger income families.

Unfortunately the income study does not measure for average income and cost of living. Which varies largely between different states.

The lower income threshold for a family of four in San Francisco is $117,400. However, in Texas, it would be $48,678.

An unaccounted for variable of this magnitude may make viewers wonder if the tremendous variability between income  relates to randomness or a flaw in the survey.

Possible explaining many children from lower-income homes with larger brain surfaces in her study.

Most lower-income families live in rural areas. Does poverty hurt a child’s development more so in rural areas? Due to lack of access to social services.

3.) Explanation of the poverty cycle

Kimberly states a child grows up in poverty, they are 75 times more likely to be poor by age 35. Rather than putting the focus on cognitive development, we should really look at opportunities given.

Poverty stricken areas usually have relatively minimal opportunities. Breaking the poverty barrier requires higher effort when unpaid internships and higher quality education is virtually inaccessible.

4.) The Solution to Childhood development

Kimberly Noble’s first solution for childhood development speaks on the home language environment of children raised in poverty.

Rather than ignoring your kid socially. Parents can increase their children’s reading and writing skills by having more conversations in the house. A solid point that many people wouldn’t have an issue agreeing with.

Warning parents about the typical, put a child in front of the TV to keep them quiet, is a warning that should be given often.

“Kids from more advantaged backgrounds hear on average of 30 million more spoken words” – said Kimberly Noble.

Coming from a “more advantaged background” could mean a multitude of different things.

Also, why are they having more conversations? Is it because they can afford to have a stay at home mother/father that can take care of them? Or perhaps having a nanny? Or somebody in the household that can work fewer hours, and/or get longer paternity leave?

Being more advantaged is a broad statement; Regardless, there is still a heavy implication that it’s related to income.

Kimberly Noble’s controversial message is her end-all solution.

“What if we tried to help young children in poverty by simply giving their families more money.”

This may seem sarcastic, but it is not. She is currently running a study to see if giving a monthly income to the mother’s recently given birth will make a difference in their child’s early developmental years.

At first glance, this seems like a great idea. On the contrary, this has been done through many social assistance programs, and tax benefits from having a child.

On top of that, it is common knowledge that those in poverty may have poor spending habits.

For example, many studies show that there is an inverse(opposite) co-relation to lottery ticket gambling and income. Demonstrating that the poorest 5th quintile purchases lottery tickets at the highest rate.

A key example of how the lower class may often mismanage their money. Rather than throw money at the issue.

An alternative is subsidizing and offering social assistance programs like breakfast clubs, sports team sponsors, Big Brother, and Sisters, etc.

This takes the spending out of the parents’ hands and makes sure that all the money goes to a child’s needs and is spent properly. Especially considering how many poverty-stricken families undergo some sort of addiction issues as well.



Stephan Toure

Blogger writer and content creator that's dedicated to helping others get out of their own way.

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