Poverty's Impact on Children's Executive Functions: Global Considerations

New Dir Child Adolesc Dev. 2017 Dec;2017(158):69-79. doi: 10.1002/cad.20220.


Poverty detrimentally affects child executive function (EF), a subset of cognitive abilities implicated in reading and other achievement outcomes. Consequently, research has focused on understanding explanatory and mediating mechanisms in this association. This research, however, has mainly involved populations from Western, high-income countries. Children from low- and middle-income countries comprise a significant proportion of the world's population and are at additional risk for poor EF as a result of a more disadvantaged context. The present review examines global work on poverty and EF to highlight important cross-national similarities and differences. Findings suggest a global association between poverty and EF and point to cognitive stimulation and environmental enrichment as common mediating variables that may also be moderators and targets for intervention. However, findings also underscore the need to consider the sociocultural context of countries when examining impacts of parenting, schooling, and other metrics. Research and intervention implications are discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Child
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Parenting*
  • Poverty*
  • Social Environment*
  • Stress, Psychological* / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological* / physiopathology