The influence of socioeconomic status on children's brain structure

PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e42486. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0042486. Epub 2012 Aug 3.


Children's cognitive abilities and school achievements are deeply affected by parental socioeconomic status (SES). Numerous studies have reported lower cognitive performance in relation to unfavorable environments, but little is known about the effects of SES on the child's neural structures. Here, we systematically explore the association between SES and brain anatomy through MRI in a group of 23 healthy 10-year-old children with a wide range of parental SES. We confirm behaviorally that language is one of the cognitive domains most affected by SES. Furthermore, we observe widespread modifications in children's brain structure. A lower SES is associated with smaller volumes of gray matter in bilateral hippocampi, middle temporal gyri, left fusiform and right inferior occipito-temporal gyri, according to both volume- and surface-based morphometry. Moreover, we identify local gyrification effects in anterior frontal regions, supportive of a potential developmental lag in lower SES children. In contrast, we found no significant association between SES and white matter architecture. These findings point to the potential neural mediators of the link between unfavourable environmental conditions and cognitive skills.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / anatomy & histology*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Cerebrum / anatomy & histology
  • Child
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Communication
  • Demography
  • Education
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Organ Specificity
  • Social Class*

Grant support

Research was supported by Ecole des Neurosciences de Paris, Fyssen Foundation, and grants from Agence Nationale de la Recherche (Genedys and Socodev). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.