Socioeconomic status (SES) is defined by the American Psychological Association as the social standing or class of an individual or group. It is often measured as a combination of education, income and occupation. Examinations of socioeconomic status often reveal inequities in access to resources, plus issues related to privilege, power and control.

SES can refer to education, and to what level one can achieve their goals. Employment or job prestige, as in, the consensual rating of a job. Quality of life, opportunities or privileges afforded to people within society are also forms of socioeconomic status.

Related:Telehealth Found Beneficial For All Families Regardless Of Status

Socioeconomic Status Basics

Child Development

Each and every person has a designated status in society. It starts from the moment they enter the world. At that point, it's based solely on their parents' status in life, because they are the ones financially responsible for the child.

According to Current Opinion in Psychology, parents have a heavy influence on their children, whether they realize it or not. Most parents influence things like religion very early on. It can move on to whom a person chooses to vote for, what family traditions are carried on, and even what time dinner is served. The way most children view the world is according to their parents.

All of that is encompassed by socioeconomic status: early childhood education, how often a child sees a dentist or doctor, and future success in life. So much of how an individual's life is formed is based on what happens in the first few years.

SES & Cognitive Development

Child Development

Cognitive development refers to how a child thinks and figures things out. When they develop knowledge, problem-solving skills, start understanding how things work, and life skills, this is all brain development known as cognitive development. Typically, the best way to get a wide variety of learning and development at a young age is to enroll a child in a good early education program.

These programs, however, do not cater to everyone. A lot of them are privately owned and cost a lot of money. One could say they were designed for people of a higher socioeconomic status.

There is an impact on the child's cognitive development. Children learn from their parents but are limited to the language skills and knowledge they possess. Unfortunately, many people with lower SES do not have as much education to rely on. They may not be able to teach things after a certain point. Depending on the education level, they might not use words properly or have a big vocabulary. Again, this is all impacting cognitive development.

Lower SES may be linked to whether or not a child can eat healthy meals on a regular basis as well. Those in a higher status may have easier access to food in general, especially regular healthy meals.

According to Feeding America, a hungry child isn't going to be able to concentrate on much of anything if all they can think about is when they will eat next. Even adults don't think as well when they are hungry. The brain needs food to properly function.

The Impact Of SES On Emotional Development

Child Development

According to a research outlet, PLOS One, young children who grow up in a family with a lower SES are more likely to have emotional and behavioral problems. This is due to the enormous amount of stress that the family faces financially to provide the required resources. Food, shelter, and clothing can all be a struggle, and that in turn, causes stress and impacts the relationship between parent and child. Typically, but not always, this results in the child being stressed out, not knowing how to properly handle it, and acting out.

Science Direct Psychoneuroendocrinology says children with lower SES are at a higher risk of developing anxiety, and BMC Psychiatry states that they also have a higher risk of developing depression. Parents often do not understand why their child is acting this way.

Even if they do, being in a low SES, they may not have the means to take the child to a doctor or psychologist. However, it is typically thought of as bad behavior and the child gets punished. The more punishment they receive versus proper care causes them to become even more unhinged and emotionally unstable, causing the behavior to continue, if not get worse.

Children can see the difference in society. They know if a friend has more of something or nicer things than them. While this shouldn't matter to a young child, it does. They can become depressed very easily over such things. Aside from physical things, they may also crave and be jealous of the relationship another child has with their parents. They might not be getting that at home due to the stress levels there. It can be very hard emotionally on a child and lead to them making bad choices as they age.

The Impact Of SES On Social Development

Child Development

The social development of a child is often linked to the emotional development of the child. In early childhood, things start like the above-mentioned, a child with a lower SES notices a friend has more of or nicer things than he or her. It continues on and gets progressively worse in middle school.

According to McLoyd, V. C. (2019) behavior of adolescents in this age group becomes more consistently externalized. They show more signs of depression and have more episodes of delinquent behavior.

Adolescents with lower socioeconomic status have been shown to have poorer social relationships compared to those with higher socioeconomic status. An analysis found in Science Alert shows there is a significant difference between the level of social-emotional development of children with parents' education level, parents' income, and parents' occupation.

Overall, the study found that the socioeconomic status of families plays an important role in influencing the social-emotional development of children.

The Impact Of SES On The Brain

Two kids playing together.
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

More than two dozen researchers, led by Kimberly G. Noble of Columbia University, performed brain imaging and looked at relationships with household income levels, as well as the education levels of the subjects' parents. The results included, but were not limited to:

  • Parental education is strongly associated with brain surface area. Any increase in paren­tal education, whether it be an extra year of high school, dropping out but getting a GED, or going on to college was associated with an increased surface area of the brain.
  • Family income played a part in a greater brain surface area as well. The study showed that surface area actually increased by the dollar.

Of course, these studies are just that. They have no actual link as to why it is this way. Thoughts are the amount of stress on a child is higher in low SES, so that may be affecting the brain. It certainly in no way means that children from high SES are somehow inferior to those in low SES. It simply shows that society as a whole need to focus more on advancements for those children.

Sources: American Psychological Association, Current Opinion in Psychology, Feeding America, PLOS One, Science Direct Psychoneuroendocrinology, BMC Psychiatry, McLoyd, V. C. (2019), Science Alert, Kimberly G. Noble of Columbia University