For families with low socioeconomic status (SES), children with early language delays are more likely to have ongoing language deficits. Poverty has been shown to have a negative effect on both the acquisition and utilization of language skills. Literature exploring the association of SES factors traditionally centers on the comparative ends of the socioeconomic continuum (e.g., poverty vs. high SES). There are limited studies which outlines variability in the effect of SES characteristics within low-income children. The current study examines the variations of contextual factors (i.e., access to resources, quality of parental-child relationship and quality of home environment) and their influence on child language acquisition among mothers with high-risk poverty conditions.
Methods: The sample consisted of mothers classified as primary caregivers who participated in the 5th wave of the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study (N=2,641). The outcome, language acquisition, was measured using Peabody Picture Vocabulary test (PPVT-III). Resource access was operationalized with 10 question-measure of Material Hardship and disruptive parental substance use. Parental-child interaction was operationalized using a scale measuring parental aggravation and a scale measuring closeness between caregiver/child. Finally, home environment was measured with a parent-report on environmental confusion (i.e., noise level, crowding, etc.). Bivariate and correlation analyses were used to examine preliminary relationships between variables. An ordinary least squares multivariable regression was used to estimate the association between the predictors and child’s language acquisition while controlling for all relevant household, clinical and demographic variables.
Results: The sample consisted of primarily black mothers (50%) and Latinx mothers (26%) with a mean age of 25 (SD=5.95). On average the income to poverty ratio was 2.03 (SD=2.36), indicating the average family in our sample had an income twice the federal poverty line for their household size. Results show a significant relationship between the mother's perception of the relationship (b=1.26, p<.05) and the child's perception (b=.79, p<.05). This suggests that within high-risk poverty conditions quality of parental-child relationship is an important factor in children's language acquisition. There was also a significant positive relationship observed between both the PPVT scores and environmental confusion (b=.31, p<.05) and the PPVT scores and household income to poverty threshold measure (b=.76, p<.05). This could indicate that environmental stimulation promotes children’s’ learning trajectory by providing increased foundational knowledge needed for language acquisition.
Conclusion and Implications: The findings strengthen existing literature regarding the influence of parent-child interaction on child language acquisition. Results also indicate that child language acquisition is not directly influenced by financial resources. There was a statistical association of increased income to poverty threshold, but not for material hardship or mother's employment status. This could indicate that the mechanism which contributes to decreased language acquisition for low SES population is not due to limited resources, but some other contextual factor associated with poverty such as quality of resources available to the child. Future research is needed to investigate the role that a chaotic environment can play in increasing child language scores.