Differences in Early Gesture Explain SES Disparities in Child Vocabulary Size at School Entry

Science  13 Feb 2009:
Vol. 323, Issue 5916, pp. 951-953
DOI: 10.1126/science.1167025

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Children from low–socioeconomic status (SES) families, on average, arrive at school with smaller vocabularies than children from high-SES families. In an effort to identify precursors to, and possible remedies for, this inequality, we videotaped 50 children from families with a range of different SES interacting with parents at 14 months and assessed their vocabulary skills at 54 months. We found that children from high-SES families frequently used gesture to communicate at 14 months, a relation that was explained by parent gesture use (with speech controlled). In turn, the fact that children from high-SES families have large vocabularies at 54 months was explained by children's gesture use at 14 months. Thus, differences in early gesture help to explain the disparities in vocabulary that children bring with them to school.

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