The specificity of environmental influence: socioeconomic status affects early vocabulary development via maternal speech

Child Dev. 2003 Sep-Oct;74(5):1368-78. doi: 10.1111/1467-8624.00612.


The hypothesis was tested that children whose families differ in socioeconomic status (SES) differ in their rates of productive vocabulary development because they have different language-learning experiences. Naturalistic interaction between 33 high-SES and 30 mid-SES mothers and their 2-year-old children was recorded at 2 time points 10 weeks apart. Transcripts of these interactions provided the basis for estimating the growth in children's productive vocabularies between the first and second visits and properties of maternal speech at the first visit. The high-SES children grew more than the mid-SES children in the size of their productive vocabularies. Properties of maternal speech that differed as a function of SES fully accounted for this difference. Implications of these findings for mechanisms of environmental influence on child development are discussed.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Language Development*
  • Male
  • Mother-Child Relations
  • Social Environment*
  • Socioeconomic Factors*
  • Verbal Behavior*
  • Vocabulary*