A new study from researchers at the University of Wisconsin in Madison concludes that poverty has an important negative effect on brain development among young children.

“Poverty may have direct implications for important, early steps in the development of the brain, saddling children of low-income families with slower rates of growth in two key brain structures, according to researchers from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

“By age 4, children in families living with incomes under 200 percent of the federal poverty line have less gray matter — brain tissue critical for processing of information and execution of actions — than kids growing up in families with higher incomes….The differences among children of the poor became apparent through analysis of hundreds of brain scans from children beginning soon after birth and repeated every few months until 4 years of age. Children in poor families lagged behind in the development of the parietal and frontal regions of the brain — deficits that help explain behavioral, learning and attention problems more common among disadvantaged children.”

The study found no differences at birth between children from homes with different income levels:

“The maturation gap of children in poor families is more startling for the lack of difference at birth among the children studied.

“One of the things that is important here is that the infants’ brains look very similar at birth,” says [Seth] Pollak, whose work is funded by the National Institutes of Health. “You start seeing the separation in brain growth between the children living in poverty and the more affluent children increase over time, which really implicates the postnatal environment.”

“The study used brain scans provided by the NIH’s MRI Study of Normal Brain Development, data that excludes children whose brain development may have been altered by a number of factors: mothers who smoke or drank during pregnancy, birth complications, head injuries, family psychiatric history and other issues. As a result, the findings may underestimate the actual deficit developed by a more representative sample of children from poor families.

“The study found no meaningful difference in gray matter between children of middle-income families and those from relatively wealthy ones.”

Studies like this make me wonder whether the billions and billions poured into phony “reforms” like VAM and privatization are a massive distraction (some might say hoax), diverting our attention to the #1 problem in our society: generational poverty.