Parents' education, mothers' vocabulary, and cognitive development in early childhood: longitudinal evidence from Ecuador

Am J Public Health. 2011 Dec;101(12):2299-307. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2011.300253. Epub 2011 Oct 20.


Objectives: I estimated the association between parents' education, mothers' vocabulary, and early child cognitive development in a sample of poor children in rural Ecuador.

Methods: I used regression analysis to estimate the association between parents' education, mothers' vocabulary, and the vocabulary, memory, and visual integration skills of children at early ages, controlling for possible confounders. The study is based on a longitudinal cohort of children in rural Ecuador (n = 2118).

Results: The schooling and vocabulary levels of mothers were strong predictors of the cognitive development of young children. Household wealth and child's height, weight, and hemoglobin levels explained only a modest fraction of the observed associations. The vocabulary levels of mothers and children were more strongly correlated among older children in the sample, suggesting that the effects of a richer maternal vocabulary are cumulative.

Conclusions: Differences in children's cognitive outcomes start very early, which has important implications for the intergenerational transmission of poverty and inequality. Programs that seek to increase early stimulation for disadvantaged children, perhaps through parenting programs or high-quality center-based care, hold promise.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child Development*
  • Child Nutrition Disorders / psychology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition*
  • Developing Countries
  • Ecuador
  • Educational Status*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language Tests
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mothers / education*
  • Parents / education*
  • Poverty Areas
  • Rural Population
  • Vocabulary*