Challenging socioeconomic status: A cross-cultural comparison of early executive function

Dev Sci. 2020 Jan;23(1):e12854. doi: 10.1111/desc.12854. Epub 2019 May 29.


The widely and internationally replicated socioeconomic status (SES) gradient of executive function (EF) implies that intervention approaches may do well to extrapolate conditions and practices from contexts that generate better child outcomes (in this case, higher SES circumstances) and translate these to contexts with comparatively poorer outcomes (often low-SES populations). Yet, can the reverse also be true? Using data from equivalent assessments of 1,092 pre-schoolers' EFs in South Africa and Australia, we evaluated: the SES gradient of EF within each sample; and whether this SES gradient extended cross-culturally. The oft-found EF-SES gradients were replicated in both samples. However, contrary to the inferences of EF-SES associations found nationally, the most highly disadvantaged South African subsample outperformed middle- and high-SES Australian pre-schoolers on two of three EFs. This suggests the possibility of EF-protective and -promotive practices within low- and middle-income countries that may aid understandings of the nature and promotion of EFs.

Keywords: LMIC; SES; disadvantage; executive function; pre-school; socioeconomic status.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Family
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Income
  • Male
  • Social Class*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • South Africa