"Beyond Wealth: The Early Social Context as a Protective Factor for Cognitive Development in Nicaragua"
SRCD 2019 Biennial Conference
March 21-23, 2019
Title: Beyond Wealth: The Early Social Context as a Protective Factor for Cognitive Development in Nicaragua (Poster)
Session: International Section
Authors: Elayne Teska, Lindsey Richland
Abstract: The quality of a child’s earliest environments and the availability of experiences have long been accepted as crucial factors in cognitive development in Western cultures (Meaney et al., 2004). By and large, comparable evidence does not exist for developing nations, as a consequence of limitations in the conceptual, technical and cultural challenges to collecting data in low-resourced settings (McCoy, 2016). Globally, family wealth directly correlates with a child’s early life experiences, by way of the resources parents can invest into their development (e.g., education, health care, cognitive stimulation) (Hackman, Farah, & Meaney 2010). Yet, little research in developing nations has directly explored the mechanisms beyond wealth that influence cognitive development such as the effect of early social context (i.e., parenting practices and accessibility to preschool education) (Legare, 2017). This is an issue of both theoretical and practical significance (Evans, 2004).
The current study examines the relationships between the social-environmental context and cognitive outcomes in the low-income country of Nicaragua. Nicaragua provides for an interesting case to study the impacts of wealth and the early social-environmental context due in large to it being one of the poorest countries in the world (WHO, 2010). The sample consisted of 1,826 population-representative children aged 24-59 months from the Programa Regional de Indicadores De Desarollo Infantil (PRIDI) database. Cognitive development was evaluated using the Engle scale, a measure of children’s language, executive functioning, numeracy, and relational reasoning skills. A wealth index was comprised of home infrastructure and assets, access to basic services, and the ratio of household members to bedrooms (Verdisco, 2015). Available resources (books in the home, total activities) and rearing practices in the environment (rules/routines, hygiene practices) were subjected to a factor analysis to create an index of a child’s home-life environment called structure. Participation in formal early education programs was also assessed.
Results indicate that wealthier children performed better than their poorer peers on cognitive measures. However, multivariate regression models show that children who experience high levels of structure perform better than those who experience low levels of structure across the wealth continuum, such that even in in the lowest quartile of wealth, high structure removes any wealth effects on cognitive development. Similarly, children who are enrolled in formalized early education programs exhibit higher cognitive skills compared to their peers who are not enrolled in formalized preschool programs. These factors bear a statistically stronger impact than the socio-economic endowment of the home or maternal education levels for a child’s cognitive development.
Consistent with data from low and middle income countries (Schady, 2014) and high income countries (Heckman, 2007), wealthier children in Nicaragua have higher cognitive quotients early in life. However, within the distribution of wealth, there is significant variation in a child’s social-environmental context which we found explains even more of cognitive developmental outcomes. The equity of outcomes for children with high home structure or access to preschools signifies that supporting these variables may be central to reducing inequality in developmental potential in low and middle income countries.