Mechanisms Linking Socioeconomic Status and Academic Achievement in Early Childhood: Cognitive Stimulation and Language

Lucy A. Lurie, Harvard University
McKenzie P. Hagen, Stanford University
Katie A. McLaughlin, Harvard University
Margaret A. Sheridan, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Andrew N. Meltzoff, University of Washington
Maya L. Rosen, Harvard University

Peer reviewed accepted manuscript.


There is a strong positive association between childhood socioeconomic status (SES) and academic achievement. This disparity may, in part, be explained by differences in early environmental experiences and language development. Cognitive stimulation—including language exposure, access to learning materials, caregiver involvement in children's learning, and variety of experiences—varies by SES and may link SES to language development. Childhood language development in turn is associated with academic achievement. In the current longitudinal study of 101 children (60–75 months), SES was positively associated with cognitive stimulation and performance on language measures. Cognitive stimulation mediated the association between SES and children's language. Furthermore, children's language mediated the association between SES and academic achievement 18 months later. In addition to addressing broader inequalities in access to resources that facilitate caregivers’ abilities to provide cognitive stimulation, cognitive stimulation itself could be targeted in future interventions to mitigate SES-related disparities in language and academic achievement.