According to a new study, the genes and warm support received from parents also can buffer these children against many of the cognitive and behavioral problems for which poverty puts them at risk. The findings are published in the May issue of the journal Child Development.
Numerous studies show that economic hardship during childhood elevates a person's risk of developing conduct problems and lower intelligence, says Julia Kim-Cohen, co-author of the recent paper and postdoctoral fellow in psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London.
But, as she notes, some children overcome these odds and, in fact, perform better on intelligence or behavioral tests than would be expected, given the level of poverty in which they're raised. These children, says Kim-Cohen, are considered to be "resilient" - or capable of doing well despite adversity.
Interested in understanding the factors that contribute to a child's resilience to poverty, Kim-Cohen and her colleagues studied genetic and environmental differences among 1,116 mothers and their five-year-old same-sex twins, part of the E-Risk longitudinal study being conducted in England and Wales.
"Children in our study experienced more than just poverty, as measured by family income level," explains Kim-Cohen, adding that often their parents were poorly educated, owned no car and held menial jobs or no job at all. "Living in the poorest neighborhoods, their homes were rated as being overcrowded, damp or in disrepair," she says.
After determining the economic conditions of each family, the researchers conducted interviews and tests to evaluate the mother's warmth and support toward her children, as well as the children's temperament and intelligence. The children who performed better than expected on behavioral
Contact: Julia Kim-Cohen
University of Wisconsin-Madison