The Economist reports on a new study linking stress to intergenerational poverty. Research conducted a few years ago demonstrated that the “working memories” of children in poverty had less capacity than those of middle income children. This in turn impeded the ability of children to learn, since they cannot store as much information in their RAM (if you will) as wealthier children.
The new research establishes that this reduced capacity is “almost certainly the result” of stresses suffered during childhood. Researchers used statistical techniques to control for general poverty to conclude that chronic stress is the likely culprit.
I don’t take this to mean that conditions of poverty are unimportant in a child’s development, of course. But the emerging links between stressors and all kinds of long-term negative outcomes – particularly ill health – is interesting. Of note is work on Adverse Childhood Experiences and the PBS series on stress and health inequalities.