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Disadvantage Follows Children Through Time, Location

Black children lose equivalent of a year in school due to concentrated disadvantage

FRIDAY, Dec. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Living in a severely disadvantaged neighborhood reduces the later verbal ability of black children by a magnitude comparable to losing a year or more of school, according to a report published online Dec. 19 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition.

Robert J. Sampson, Ph.D., of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., and colleagues followed more than 2,000 children between the ages of 6 and 12, living in 80 Chicago neighborhood clusters stratified by racial/ethnic composition and socioeconomic status at baseline. Subjects were evenly split by gender, and were interviewed in their homes and assessed three times over a period of seven years. Children and their caretakers were followed wherever they moved in the United States. Because of wide disparities in the numbers of black children and children of other racial/ethnic groups living in areas defined through broad range of co-variants as concentrated disadvantaged, the study focused on verbal trajectories of 772 black children.

Concentrated disadvantage was found to reduce later verbal ability by more than four points, or more than 25 percent of standard deviation. The strongest effects were observed to appear several years after children had lived in areas of concentrated disadvantage.

"Policy discussions of investment in children are to be applauded," the authors conclude, "but if our study is any guide, these discussions should be expanded to include a more comprehensive approach to investing in and thereby improving the neighborhood contexts to which children are exposed as they develop cognitive skills crucial for later achievement in life."

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