“Working memories of children raised in poverty have smaller capacities than those of middle-class children.” There you have it. This was first reported on three years ago via a University of Pennsylvania study. It was revisited by two Cornell researchers who published earlier this month that “reduced capacities of the memories of the poor are almost certainly the result of stress affecting the way that childish brains develop.”
Working memory is critical for comprehending languages, holding bits of timely information (phone numbers, simple facts) as well as for reading and problem solving. Bottom line, children with stressed lives find it harder to learn so it isn’t too surprising they do less well in school, end up poorer as adults and pass on the same conditions to their children.
Yet countless studies have also shown that people residing at the bottom of the social and financial mound lead much more stressful lives than those farther up. So we now have confirmation looking at this issue from the top down and bottom up, but where does this leave us? I suppose we now have a clearer view how poverty passes from generation to generation. But how do you reduce the stress you pass on to your children if you indeed are too stressed to recognize the damage being done or too stressed to care?