Florence Thompson with several of her children in a photograph known as "Migrant Mother," an iconic depiction of poverty in Ameria

Poverty supresses children's genetic potential, study says

Psychologists at University of Texas say the difference is about opportunity, not superior wealthy genes

Adam Clark Estes
January 10, 2011 11:27PM (UTC)

Researchers at the University of Texas claim that poverty may affect how children achieve their genetic potential. Using 750 sets of twins as subjects, the team of psychologists led by assistant professor Elliot Tucker-Drob found that 50 percent of the progress wealthier children show on mental ability tests can be attributed to genetics. Children from poor families, however, showed almost no progress attributable to genetics.

Don't get too carried away with the conclusions this might suggest. Based on this study, rich kids are not genetically superior to children of poverty. They're simply provided with more opportunities to fulfill their potential.


Of course, this conclusion holds some interesting implications for the field of childhood development. From the University of Texas announcement about the findings:

These findings go to the heart of the age-old debate about whether "nature" or "nurture" is more important to a child's development. They suggest the two work together and that the right environment can help children begin to reach their genetic potentials at a much earlier age than previously thought.

As the nation pulls out of the greatest economic disaster since the Great Depression, such a breakthrough could serve to shift attention toward taking better care of America's youth.

One out of every five children in the U.S. lives in poverty. That's a lot of lost potential.

Adam Clark Estes

Adam Clark Estes blogs the news for Salon. Email him at ace@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @adamclarkestes

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