What accounts for socioeconomic differences in child-directed speech? The role of resource scarcity

Colloquium | February 25 | 12:10-1:15 p.m. | 1102 Berkeley Way West

 Monica Ellwood-Lowe, Department of Psychology

 Department of Psychology

Parents with fewer educational and economic resources (low socioeconomic-status, SES) tend to speak less with their children, with important consequences for children’s later language outcomes and, ultimately, their performance in school. Despite this well-established link, surprisingly little research has focused on why such a gap exists. In fact, most researchers rely on individual-level explanations for CDS disparities, including parenting knowledge and effort, with little attention to structural factors that may contribute to these differences. Here, we investigate one possible structural explanation for SES differences in CDS: low-SES parents are more likely to experience resource scarcity. Building on evidence that reminders of scarcity affect attention and cognition, we ask whether low-SES parents may direct less speech to their children not because they lack parenting knowledge, but because managing the challenges imposed by poverty requires significant cognitive resources. I will discuss the findings from two studies—experimental and observational—that begin to consider the causal role of resource scarcity in the well-established SES-CDS gap.