Magazine article Science News

Mean Streets: Kids' Verbal Skills Drop in Bad Neighborhoods

Magazine article Science News

Mean Streets: Kids' Verbal Skills Drop in Bad Neighborhoods

Article excerpt

You can take a child out of a severely disadvantaged neighborhood and move to a nicer part of town, but you can't always take a bad neighborhood's harmful effects on verbal development out of the child.

That's the implication of a new, long-term study of children from various Chicago neighborhoods. Kids living in the most disadvantaged communities displayed marked declines in age-appropriate verbal ability over a 7-year span, even after moving to better areas, reports a team led by Harvard University sociologist Robert J. Sampson.

On average, children who at some point lived in neighborhoods characterized by "concentrated disadvantage" exhibited decreases of 4 IQ points on later standardized tests of vocabulary and reading skills. Comparable verbal losses occur when a child misses 1 year of school.

Concentrated disadvantage consists of a high rate of welfare recipients, high levels of poverty and unemployment, racial segregation, and large numbers of female-headed households and children per household.

Exposure to concentrated disadvantage exerted harsher verbal effects on the youngest kids, the researchers say.

"Taking steps to invest in neighborhoods directly, by creating safe public spaces and quality learning environments for children, is likely a cost-effective way to mitigate the harmful consequences of concentrated disadvantage," Sampson says.

The new findings will appear in an upcoming Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Sampson's group studied 2,226 children, ages 6 to 12, living in poor, middle-class, and upper-class sections of Chicago. Kids and their parents or caretakers were tracked from 1995 through 2002. In that time, about half of the participants moved from one Chicago neighborhood to another or to other parts of the United States. Interviews with children and caretakers occurred at the study's start and twice more, every 2 to 3 years. …

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