When Do Socioeconomic Resources Matter Most in Early Childhood?
Stefanie F. Mollborn, University of Colorado at Boulder
Elizabeth Lawrence, University of Colorado at Boulder
Laurie James-Hawkins, University of Colorado at Boulder
Paula Fomby, University of Michigan
Research has established the importance of early socioeconomic disadvantage for later life outcomes, but less is known about change in the relationship between socioeconomic status (SES) and development across early childhood. Our competing hypotheses posited: (1) a stable SES-development relationship, (2) a stronger relationship in infancy than at older ages, and (3) a stronger relationship at school entry than at younger ages. Using the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort (2001–2007), we followed 8600 children from infancy through kindergarten to model change in the relationship between socioeconomic status and cognitive and behavioral development. Our unexpected finding was that this relationship strengthened from infancy through age 4/4½, then weakened slightly until kindergarten. Indirect evidence suggested that preschool education may be an explanation. We argue for researchers to expand the school transition to include prekindergarten, as well as for attention to developmental factors that may shape the SES-development relationship throughout early childhood.