Poverty Affects Genetic Potential

Children from poorer backgrounds less likely to reach genetic potential to excel in mental ability

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) According to researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, poverty may hold back children's genetic potentials as early as age two.

That's not to say that wealthier children are smarter, only that they are given more opportunities to their potential.

Assistant Professor Elliot Tucker-Drob and colleagues studied 750 sets of twins. The children took a specialized test at 10 months of age and again at about 2 years of age. On the test given at 10 months the researchers observed no difference in mental ability of children who come from different socioeconomic backgrounds. However, by 2 years of age, children from higher socioeconomic backgrounds scored substantially better than those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

Two-year-olds from poorer backgrounds performed similarly to one another. Whether they were fraternal or identical twins did not impact outcomes, suggesting that environmental similarities, rather than genetic similarities, were responsible for the similar test results.

Identical twins from higher socioeconomic backgrounds had similar test results, while fraternal twins did not. This suggests that genetic differences were already influencing their mental abilities.

According to Tucker-Drob, these findings - which appear in the journal Psychological Science - demonstrate how "nature" and "nuture" work together to influence outcomes. Both environment and genetics seem to contribute to children's cognitive abilities.

Although this study did not examine the environmental factors which help wealthier kids reach their genetic potential, Tucker-Drob plans to study the topic in the future.

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Review Date: 
January 25, 2011
Last Updated:
January 26, 2011