Relationship between Poverty and Neurocognitive Skills: 貧窮和腦神經認知發展的關係

Ka Wai Maggie LAU*, Kee Lee CHOU, Chi Kin, Kelvin CHEUNG, Kei Yan, Kean POON, Ting-Sum, Lydia YEE

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Scholarly Books | Reports | Literary WorksConsulting or Contract Research ReportResearch


Children growing up in poverty may face significant challenges when attempting to move up the social ladder. Empirical studies have shown causal relationships between childhood poverty and negative outcomes of physical and mental health, cognitive ability, poor academic achievement as well as income in adulthood. It is critical to understand what mediate the income effect on children’s cognitive achievement in order to explain why and when income matters.

This study aimed to examine the relationship between poverty status and the development of cognitive functions amongst Hong Kong preschool children and to identify the mechanisms underlying the effects of growing up in poverty. This empirical research had two core elements in pursuing the research objectives. First, a neurocognitive assessment was adopted to assess the perceptual,
cognitive and language functions of preschool children. Neuropsychology Second Edition (NEPSY-II) and Hong Kong Comprehensive Assessment Scales for Preschool Children (HKCAS-P) were adopted to assess four functional domains, including attention and executive functioning, language (both in
Cantonese and English), memory and learning, and visuospatial processing, of preschool children aged 36 to 47 months. Second, structured questionnaire was self-administered by parents to understand their socioeconomic status (SES), parental investment and parental distress.

Overall, regression analyses showed that equivalised household income, expenditure on children, parental education (except maternal education on child assessment performance on English language) were not a significant direct linear influence on child assessment performance. The findings showed that household income and child assessment performance are mediated by parental stress. We also observed that household income and child assessment performance on both English and Chinese language are positively mediated by parental stress. The findings may be relevant to quality external care the child receives which relieves negative impacts of parental stress on child cognitive development, especially for children from disadvantaged families. There were significant indirect
effects of parental investment on child assessment performance, and parental stress and parental investment on child assessment performance, respectively. We also observed that household income and child assessment performance are negatively mediated by parental investment on non-languagerelated activities. It may be related to the limited parental time spent with their preschool children
due to long working hours. Lastly, we argued that family income and household expenditure on child learning-related activities might not be the most decisive mechanism that drives child assessment performance. Parental time investment and quality child-parent interactions have stronger effects than family income on early child cognitive development.

Therefore, we recommend to enhance the accessibility of child care services, which is vital in supporting early childhood development. It is believed that quality child care service can enhance children’s readiness for school, which is also a means to ensure equal life chances from the start of their life course and to promote intergenerational mobility regardless of socioeconomic status of their families.

(2). Layman Summary of Policy Implications and Recommendations
Recommendations for policy makers to ensure equal life chances from the start of their life chances from the start of their life course and to promote intergenerational mobility:

(1). Non-monetary parenting practices are vital to children’s cognitive and non-cognitive development. Parents’ long working hours limits time involvement in childcare activities and thus we suggest policy advocacy and implementation on maximum working hours and flexible work-life balance arrangement.

(2). Quality parenting time is crucial to children’s development. We suggest equipping parents with the skills needed for creating a stimulating home environment and engaging their children in more structured activities, like reading and mother-child verbal interactions.

(3). The shortage of childcare services and the low affordability for low-income families create barriers to the access of quality childcare services. We suggest increasing the accessibility of childcare service to support the family function of working mothers.

(4). Mothers from low-income families who have child caring responsibility but cannot have access to childcare supporting services and fail to return to labour force. By increasing the accessibility of childcare services, we anticipate, in the long run, to facilitate female participation in the labour force.

(1). 研究摘要

(Neuropsychology Second Edition, NEPSY-II) 和 香 港 學 前 兒 童 綜 合 發 展 評 估 (Hong Kong Comprehensive Assessment Scales for Preschool Children, HKCAS-P) 量度工具,評估年齡介乎 36至 47 個月的學前兒童的注意力和執行、語言 (廣東話和英語)、記憶和學習能力、視覺空間等功能。第二,通過家長問卷的收集,了解不同家庭的社經背景、家庭的資源投放及家長面對的精神壓力狀況。

總括而言,回歸分析結果顯示家庭收入、家庭對子女學習的支出、父母的教育程度 (母親教育程度對學前兒童的英語評估表現例外) 對兒童評估表現沒有明顯的直接線性的影響。分析結果亦顯示家庭收入與兒童評估表現受父母面對的精神壓力所影響。我們亦觀察到父母面對精神壓力對家庭收入、兒童的語言 (廣東話和英語) 評估表現均呈正向關係。結果可能與小朋友獲得優質的幼兒照顧服務有關,因為外在的支援服務有助減輕家長面對的精神壓力對兒童認知發展造成的負面影響 (尤其是弱勢家庭的兒童)。家庭的資源投放對學前兒童評估、家長面對的精神壓力和家庭的資源投放對學前兒童評估表現有顯著的間接影響。同時,我們亦觀察到家庭收入和兒童評估表現受到家長對非語言相關活動的資源投入有負面影響。這可能與家長因長工時影響與年幼子女相處時間有關。最後,我們認為家庭收入與家庭在兒童學習相關的支出並不是對兒童評估表現最決定的因素。家長的時間投放、良好的親子互動較家庭收入對兒童早期認知發展有較大的影響。


(2). 研究項目對政策影響和政策建議的摘要為政策制定者對確保幼童從小擁有平等生活及上向流動機會的政策建議:

(1) 非金錢的親子方式對兒童的認知和非認知發展至為重要。父母的長工時限制了親子活

(2) 具質素的親子時間對兒童成長至為重要。我們建議為家長提供刺激幼童學習的家庭環
境技巧,並讓他們的孩子參與更多有組織性的活動 (如閱讀及親子的語言互動) 。

(3) 幼兒照顧服務供應及負擔能力不足,均對低收入家庭獲取幼兒照顧服務造成障礙。我

(4) 來自低收入家庭的母親,因有親職責任無法獲取幼兒照顧服務,因而未能重返勞工市
Original languageEnglish
PublisherLingnan University
Number of pages53
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2020

Bibliographical note

This research project (Project Number: 2017.A3.011.17C) is funded by the Public Policy Research Funding Scheme from Policy Innovation and Co-ordination Office of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government. The research team would like to express our gratitude for schools and non-governmental organisations which have provided us support for questionnaire and assessment design, and sample recruitment of the study. The research team would also like to thank preschool children and their parents who participated in the neurocognitive assessment and survey questionnaire, respectively.


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