Poverty's effects on early childhood development

Updated June 13, 2017

The economic status of families with children can have a profound impact on early childhood development. Children in poverty struggle with the impact of their limited economic resources throughout early childhood and into adulthood. Schools, churches, and other institutions can support families with young children in poverty by offering financial assistance and other forms of support.


Contrary to popular opinion, IQ does not remain stable over time and is in fact influenced by environmental factors. According to research, children in poverty tend to have reduced IQs when compared to those with higher economic status. This disparity may begin in the womb; brain development is affected by prenatal maternal health, which is influenced by the economic status of the mother.

Academic Performance

Several studies over the past two decades have pointed out the relationship between academic performance and economic status. Children in poverty academically underperform compared to children from middle-class or wealthy backgrounds. Extreme poverty may interfere with early childhood development of linguistic, spatial and mathematical skills, making it difficult for children to perform well in the classroom.

Health and Mortality

Extreme poverty compromises the physical safety and health of children. Children in poverty experience relatively high rates of diabetes, lead poisoning and dehydration. There is also increased risk of mortality from treatable conditions such as dehydration or pneumonia. Children in poverty typically lack the resources to combat these conditions rigorously.

Compensating Factors

The home environment can offer certain compensating factors that diminish the negative impact of poverty. Children can experience proper development mentally and physically in stable homes with strong familial relationships. The compensating factors of a loving home can help ensure strong childhood development despite economic circumstances.

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About the Author

Jessica Pope has been a freelance writer since 2001. Her areas of expertise include relationships, education and social psychology. She has published numerous K-12 curriculum development books as well as "Mending Your Marriage," a Christian marriage counseling ebook. Jessica earned her Bachelor of Arts at Swarthmore College and is currently pursuing graduate studies.