How Socioeconomic Status Impacts Early Childhood Development

Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

There are so many genetic and environmental factors that are key to early childhood development. In this lesson you will learn how a child's socioeconomic status impacts various areas of their early childhood development.

Socioeconomic Status

From before we are even born, we have a designated status level in society. Socioeconomic status, or SES, refers to the social and financial level of individuals in society. Your socioeconomic status, from before birth and through your early years of life, is based on your parents since they are the ones financially responsible for you and your early development.

Impact on Early Childhood Development

Your parents' socioeconomic status will determine many things about your early development: how you view the world; what, how much and how often you eat; type of early childhood education; your overall health; and how others view you. It also impacts your later success or failure in life. Arguably, much of the course of our lives is set by what happens between the ages of two through five when we are discovering and understanding our world.

Cognitive and Language

Cognitive refers to our ability to think and understand various concepts, topics, and processes. Our ability to comprehend more complex ideals is based on our exposure to simpler ideals in our early years. The easiest way to be exposed to a wider variety of concepts is by enrolling in a good early childhood education program. These programs are normally privately owned and cost a substantial amount of money; and therefore, usually can only be afforded by those with a higher SES.

A young child's SES impacts both his/her language and cognitive abilities by what he/she is able to learn from his/her parents. Most of the words we learn as a child come from our parents, so they have a critical role in our language development. Many people with a lower SES are typically less educated than people with a higher SES. They may not be able to teach their children the concepts and topics needed to think on a more critical level. They also may not use words properly that allow for proper language development within their children. Children often speak the way their parents speak, which means if a parent uses improper language, then the children may as well.

Another way SES positively impacts the cognitive skills of children is the improved ability to think when they are in good health. A lower SES may make eating healthy meals on a regular basis difficult, while a higher SES makes it easier to obtain healthy food on a regular basis. A hungry child is not going to be able to concentrate on the alphabet when the only thing on his/her mind is eating. After all, most adults who understand what is going on, do not think very solidly when hungry! Not eating healthy foods leads to malnutrition, which does not provide the brain the food it needs to optimally operate.


Young children who grow up in a family with a lower SES are more likely to have emotional and behavioral problems. This is due largely to the stress that comes with struggling for needed resources such as food, clothes, etc. The stress, brought on by the parents, impacts how they interact with their children, and also results in the children being stressed as well.

Within a short period of time, the child starts showing signs of distress with high levels of anxiety. Because the child is too young to know how to deal with stress and anxiety, he/she may display inappropriate behavior. The parents may not understand why the child is acting out, and may not have the means to take the child to a doctor or psychologist. So, they punish the child. Following punishment, the child will probably become even more frustrated and more emotionally unstable. As you can decipher, a cycle starts and continues through these early developmental years. So rather than developing into an emotionally stable child, they become increasingly unstable.

Even at a young age, children often know when they are different from others. Because of this, they could develop an emotional complex or become depressed about what they do not have that other children their age have. This could be things as simple as toys and clothes they want but cannot have.


Many families with lower SES represent households where both parents work or are single-parent households, potentially leaving very little time for the parents to interact with their children. Humans develop the ability to socialize with others from interactions during the earliest years with parents and siblings. The lack of interaction can lead to the lack of the children being able to interact with other children.

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