Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Family Socioeconomic Status and Child Executive Functions: The Roles of Language, Home Environment, and Single Parenthood

  • Khaled Sarsour (a1), Margaret Sheridan (a2), Douglas Jutte (a3), Amani Nuru-Jeter (a3), Stephen Hinshaw (a4) and W. Thomas Boyce (a5)...

The association between family socioeconomic status (SES) and child executive functions is well-documented. However, few studies have examined the role of potential mediators and moderators. We studied the independent and interactive associations between family SES and single parenthood to predict child executive functions of inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility, and working memory and examined child expressive language abilities and family home environment as potential mediators of these associations. Sixty families from diverse SES backgrounds with a school-age target child (mean [SD] age = 9.9 [0.96] years) were evaluated. Child executive functioning was measured using a brief battery. The quality of the home environment was evaluated using the Home Observation for the Measurement of the Environment inventory. Family SES predicted the three child executive functions under study. Single parent and family SES were interactively associated with children’s inhibitory control and cognitive flexibility; such that children from low SES families who were living with one parent performed less well on executive function tests than children from similarly low SES who were living with two parents. Parental responsivity, enrichment activities and family companionship mediated the association between family SES and child inhibitory control and working memory. This study demonstrates that family SES inequalities are associated with inequalities in home environments and with inequalities in child executive functions. The impact of these disparities as they unfold in the lives of typically developing children merits further investigation and understanding. (JINS, 2011, 17, 000–000)

Corresponding author
Correspondence and reprint requests to: Khaled Sarsour, Lilly Corporate Center, DC 1833, Indianapolis, IN 46285. E-mail:
Hide All
Allison P.D., Furstenberg F.F. (1989). How marital dissolution affects children - variations by age and sex. Developmental Psychology, 25(4), 540549.
Alvarez J.A., Emory E. (2006). Executive function and the frontal lobes: A meta-analytic review. Neuropsychology Review, 16(1), 1742.
Andersen S.L. (2003). Trajectories of brain development: Point of vulnerability or window of opportunity? Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 27(1–2), 318.
Anderson V.A., Anderson P., Northam E., Jacobs R., Catroppa C. (2001). Development of executive functions through late childhood and adolescence in an Australian sample. Developmental Neuropsychology, 20(1), 385406.
Ardila A., Rosselli M., Matute E., Guajardo S. (2005). The influence of the parents’ educational level on the development of executive functions. Developmental Neuropsychology, 28(1), 539560.
Baddeley A. (1998). Working memory. Comptes rendus de l’Académie des sciences. Série III, Sciences de la vie, 321(2–3), 167173.
Barber B.L., Eccles J.S. (1992). Long-term influence of divorce and single parenting on adolescent family- and work-related values, behaviors, and aspirations. Psychology Bulletin, 111(1), 108126.
Barkley R.A. (2001). The executive functions and self-regulation: An evolutionary neuropsychological perspective. Neuropsychology Review, 11(1), 129.
Baron I.S. (2004). Neuropsychological evaluation of the child. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.
Baron R.M., Kenny D.A. (1986). The moderator-mediator variable distinction in social psychological research: Conceptual, strategic, and statistical considerations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51(6), 11731182.
Baumeister R.F., Vohs K.D. (2004). Handbook of self-regulation: Research, theory, and applications. New York: Guilford Press.
Blair C. (2002). School readiness. Integrating cognition and emotion in a neurobiological conceptualization of children’s functioning at school entry. The American Psychologist, 57(2), 111127.
Blair C., Granger D., Peters Razza R. (2005). Cortisol reactivity is positively related to executive function in preschool children attending head start. Child Development, 76(3), 554567.
Bornstein M.H., Bradley R.H. (Eds.). (2003). Socioeconomic status, parenting, and child development. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Boyce W.T. (2004). Social stratification, health, and violence in the very young. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1036, 4768.
Boyce W.T., Essex M.J., Woodward H.R., Measelle J.R., Ablow J.C., Kupfer D.J. (2002). The confluence of mental, physical, social, and academic difficulties in middle childhood. I: Exploring the “head waters” of early life morbidities. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 41(5), 580587.
Bradley R.H., Caldwell B.M. (1977). Home observation for measurement of the environment: A validation study of screening efficiency. American Journal of Mental Deficiency, 81(5), 417420.
Bradley R.H., Corwyn R.F. (2002). Socioeconomic status and child development. Annual Review of Psychology, 53, 371399.
Bradley R.H., Corwyn R.F., Burchinal M., McAdoo H.P., Coll C.G. (2001). The home environments of children in the United States. II: Relations with behavioral development through age thirteen. Child Development, 72(6), 18681886.
Bradley R.H., Corwyn R.F., McAdoo H.P., Coll C.G. (2001). The home environments of children in the United States. I: Variations by age, ethnicity, and poverty status. Child Development, 72(6), 18441867.
Brocki K.C., Bohlin G. (2004). Executive functions in children aged 6 to 13: A dimensional and developmental study. Developmental Neuropsychology, 26(2), 571593.
Brooks-Gunn J., Duncan G.J. (1997). The effects of poverty on children. The Future of Children, 7(2), 5571.
Brooks-Gunn J., Klebanov P.K., Duncan G.J. (1996). Ethnic differences in children’s intelligence test scores: Role of economic deprivation, home environment, and maternal characteristics. Child Development, 67(2), 396408.
Caldwell B., Bradley R.H. (2005). HOME inventory administration manual, standard edition (Training Manual). Little Rock: University of Arkansas.
Calkins S.D., Fox N.A. (2002). Self-regulatory processes in early personality development: A multilevel approach to the study of childhood social withdrawal and aggression. Developmental Psychopathology, 14(3), 477498.
Case R., Griffin S., Kelly W.M. (1999). Socioeconomic gradients in mathematical ability and their responsiveness to intervention during early childhood. In D.P. Keating, & C. Hertzman (Eds.), Developmental health and the wealth of nations: social, biological and educational dynamics (pp. 125–149). New York: The Guilford Press.
Chen E., Matthews K.A., Boyce W.T. (2002). Socioeconomic differences in children’s health: How and why do these relationships change with age? Psychology Bulletin, 128(2), 295329.
Cohen J., Cohen J. (2003). Applied multiple regression/correlation analysis for the behavioral sciences. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum Associates.
Currie J. (2005). Health disparities and gaps in school readiness. The Future of Children, 15(1), 117138.
Davidson M.C., Amso D., Anderson L.C., Diamond A. (2006). Development of cognitive control and executive functions from 4 to 13 years: Evidence from manipulations of memory, inhibition, and task switching. Neuropsychologia, 44(11), 20372078.
Dearing E., McCartney K., Taylor B.A. (2001). Change in family income-to-needs matters more for children with less. Child Development, 72(6), 17791793.
Dethorne L.S., Johnson B.W., Loeb J.W. (2005). A closer look at MLU: What does it really measure? Clinical Linguistics & Phonetics, 19(8), 635648.
Diamond A. (2002). Normal development of prefrontal cortex from birth to young adulthood: Cognitive functions, anatomy, and biochemistry. In D.T. Stuss & R.T. Knight (Eds.), Principles of frontal lobe function (pp. 466503). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Diamond A. (2006). The early development of executive functions. In E. Bialystok & F.I.M. Craik (Eds.), Lifespan cognition: Mechanisms of change (pp. 7095). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Diamond A. (2007). Consequences of variations in genes that affect dopamine in prefrontal cortex. Cerebral Cortex, 17(Suppl 1), i161i170.
Diamond A. (2009). The interplay of biology and the environment broadly defined. Developmental Psychology, 45(1), 18.
Diamond A., Barnett W.S., Thomas J., Munro S. (2007). Preschool program improves cognitive control. Science, 318(5855), 13871388.
Eaker D.G., Walters L.H. (2002). Adolescent satisfaction in family rituals and psychosocial development: A developmental systems theory perspective. Journal of Family Psychology, 16(4), 406414.
East L., Jackson D., O’Brien L. (2006). Father absence and adolescent development: A review of the literature. Journal Child Health Care, 10(4), 283295.
Essex M.J., Kraemer H.C., Armstrong J.M., Boyce T., Goldsmith H.H., Klein M.H., Kupfer D.J. (2006). Exploring risk factors for the emergence of children’s mental health problems. Archives of General Psychiatry, 63(11), 12461256.
Evans G.W. (2006). Child development and the physical environment. Annual Review of Psychology, 57, 423451.
Evans G.W., English K. (2002). The environment of poverty: Multiple stressor exposure, psychophysiological stress, and socioemotional adjustment. Child Development, 73(4), 12381248.
Evans G.W., Gonnella C., Marcynyszyn L.A., Gentile L., Salpekar N. (2005). The role of chaos in poverty and children’s socioemotional adjustment. Psychological Science, 16(7), 560565.
Evans G.W., Schamberg M.A. (2009). Childhood poverty, chronic stress, and adult working memory. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 106(16), 65456549.
Farah M.J., Shera D.M., Savage J.H., Betancourt L., Giannetta J.M., Brodsky N.L., Hurt H. (2006). Childhood poverty: Specific associations with neurocognitive development. Brain Research, 1110(1), 166174.
Forgas J.P., Baumeister R.F., Tice D.M. (2009). Psychology of self-regulation: Cognitive, affective, and motivational processes. New York: Routledge.
Francis D.D., Champagne F.A., Liu D., Meaney M.J. (1999). Maternal care, gene expression, and the development of individual differences in stress reactivity. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 896, 6684.
Fuster J.M. (1997). The prefrontal cortex: Anatomy, physiology, and neuropsychology of the frontal lobe. Philadelphia: Lippincott-Raven.
Golden C.J. (1978). Stroop Color and Word Test: A manual for clinical and experimental uses. Chicago: Stoelting Co.
Guralnik J.M., Butterworth S., Wadsworth M.E., Kuh D. (2006). Childhood socioeconomic status predicts physical functioning a half century later. The Journals of Gerontology. Series A, Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 61(7), 694701.
Hackman D.A., Farah M.J. (2009). Socioeconomic status and the developing brain. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13(2), 6573.
Hackman D.A., Farah M.J., Meaney M.J. (2010). Socioeconomic status and the brain: Mechanistic insights from human and animal research. Nature Reviews. Neuroscience, 11(9), 651659.
Harden K.P., Turkheimer E., Loehlin J.C. (2006). Genotype by environment interaction in adolescents’ cognitive aptitude. Behavior Genetics, 37, 273283.
Hart T., Risley T.R. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experience of young American children. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.
Hertzman C., Boyce T. (2010). How experience gets under the skin to create gradients in developmental health. Annual Review of Public Health, 31, 329347, 3p following 347.
Hoff E. (2003). The specificity of environmental influence: Socioeconomic status affects early vocabulary development via maternal speech. Child Development, 74(5), 13681378.
Hollingshead A. (1975). Four factor index of social status. New Haven, CN: Department of Sociology, Yale University.
Holmbeck G.N. (1997). Toward terminological, conceptual, and statistical clarity in the study of mediators and moderators: Examples from the child-clinical and pediatric psychology literatures. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 65(4), 599610.
Kane M.J., Engle R.W. (2002). The role of prefrontal cortex in working-memory capacity, executive attention, and general fluid intelligence: An individual-differences perspective. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 9(4), 637671.
Kaplan G.A., Turrell G., Lynch J.W., Everson S.A., Helkala E.L., Salonen J.T. (2001). Childhood socioeconomic position and cognitive function in adulthood. International Journal of Epidemiology, 30(2), 256263.
Karoly P. (1993). Mechanisms of self-regulation - A systems view. Annual Review of Psychology, 44, 2352.
Kishiyama M.M., Boyce W.T., Jimenez A.M., Perry L.M., Knight R.T. (2008). Socioeconomic disparities affect prefrontal function in children. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 21(6), 11061115.
Kortte K.B., Horner M.D., Windham W.K. (2002). The trail making test, part B: Cognitive flexibility or ability to maintain set? Applied Neuropsychology, 9(2), 106109.
Kraemer H.C., Stice E., Kazdin A., Offord D., Kupfer D. (2001). How do risk factors work together? Mediators, moderators, and independent, overlapping, and proxy risk factors. American Journal of Psychiatry, 158(6), 848856.
Kroenke C. (2008). Socioeconomic status and health: Youth development and neomaterialist and psychosocial mechanisms. Social Science & Medicine, 66(1), 3142.
Lamm C., Zelazo P.D., Lewis M.D. (2006). Neural correlates of cognitive control in childhood and adolescence: Disentangling the contributions of age and executive function. Neuropsychologia, 44(11), 21392148.
Link B.G., Phelan J. (1995). Social conditions as fundamental causes of disease. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Spec No, 8094.
Link B.G., Phelan J.C. (1996). Understanding sociodemographic differences in health--the role of fundamental social causes. American Journal of Public Health, 86(4), 471473.
Long J.S., Ervin L.H. (2000). Using heteroscedasticity consistent standard errors in the linear regression model. American Statistician, 54(3), 217224.
MacArthur Research Network on Socioeconomic Status and Health. (2000). John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Research Network on Socioeconomic Status and Health Sociodemographic Questionnaire. Retrieved from
MacLeod C.M. (1991). Half a century of research on the Stroop effect: An integrative review. Psychology Bulletin, 109(2), 163203.
Malecki C.K., Demaray M.K. (2006). Social support as a buffer in the relationship between socioeconomic status and academic performance. School Psychology Quarterly, 21(4), 375395.
Marks G.N. (2006). Are between- and within-school differences in student performance largely due to socio-economic background? Evidence from 30 countries. Educational Research, 48(1), 2140.
McCabe L.A., Cunnington M., Brooks-Gunn J. (2004). The development of self-regulation in young children: Individual Characteristics and environmental contexts. In R.F. Baumeister & K.D. Vohs (Eds.), Handbook of self-regulation (pp. 340357). New York: The Guilford Press.
McLanahan S., Sandefur G.D. (1994). Growing up with a single parent: What hurts, what helps. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
McLoyd V.C. (1998). Socioeconomic disadvantage and child development. The American Psychologist, 53(2), 185204.
Mercy J.A., Steelman L.C. (1982). Familial influence on the intellectual attainment of children. American Sociological Review, 47(4), 532542.
Mezzacappa E. (2004). Alerting, orienting, and executive attention: Developmental properties and sociodemographic correlates in an epidemiological sample of young, urban children. Child Development, 75(5), 13731386.
Miller E.K., Cohen J.D. (2001). An integrative theory of prefrontal cortex function. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 24, 167202.
Navarro V. (2007). Neoliberalism, globalization, and inequalities: Consequences for health and quality of life. Amityville, NY: Baywood Publishers.
Noble K.G., Farah M.J., McCandliss B.D. (2006). Socioeconomic background modulates cognition-achievement relationships in reading. Cognitive Development, 21(3), 349368.
Noble K.G., McCandliss B.D., Farah M.J. (2007). Socioeconomic gradients predict individual differences in neurocognitive abilities. Developmental Science, 10(4), 464480.
Noble K.G., Norman M.F., Farah M.J. (2005). Neurocognitive correlates of socioeconomic status in kindergarten children. Developmental Science, 8(1), 7487.
Noble K.G., Wolmetz M.E., Ochs L.G., Farah M.J., McCandliss B.D. (2006). Brain-behavior relationships in reading acquisition are modulated by socioeconomic factors. Developmental Science, 9(6), 642654.
Parker M.D. (2005). A comparative study between mean length of utterance in morphemes (MLUm) and mean length of utterance in words (MLUw). First Language, 25(3), 365376.
Pennington B.F., Ozonoff S. (1996). Executive functions and developmental psychopathology. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines, 37(1), 5187.
Raviv T., Kessenich M., Morrison F.J. (2004). A mediational model of the association between socioeconomic status and three-year-old language abilities: The role of parenting factors. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 19(4), 528547.
Ricciuti H.N. (2004). Single parenthood, achievement, and problem behavior in White, Black, and Hispanic children. The Journal of Educational Research, 97(4), 196206.
Rose G. (1985). Sick individuals and sick populations. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 79(10), 990996.
Rueda M.R., Posner M.I., Rothbart M.K. (2005). The development of executive attention: Contributions to the emergence of self-regulation. Developmental Neuropsychology, 28(2), 573594.
Rutter M. (2006). Genes and behavior: Nature-nurture interplay explained. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing.
Sarsour K. (2007). Family socioeconomic status and child neurocognitive functions in population health perspective. Social inequalities in early neurodevelopment: Mediation and effect modification in population health perspective (pp. 36–63) (Doctoral Dissertation). University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley.
Seguin J.R., Zelazo P.D. (2005). Executive function in early physical aggression. In R.E. Tremblay, W.W. Hartup & J. Archer (Eds.), Developmental origins of aggression (pp. 307329). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Shimamura A.P. (2000). The role of the prefrontal cortex in dynamic filtering. Psychobiology, 28(2), 207218.
Smith E.E., Jonides J. (1997). Working memory: A view from neuroimaging. Cognitive Psychology, 33(1), 542.
Stevens C., Lauinger B., Neville H. (2009). Differences in the neural mechanisms of selective attention in children from different socioeconomic backgrounds: An event-related brain potential study. Developmental Science, 12(4), 634646.
Strauss E., Sherman E.M.S., Spreen O. (2006). A compendium of neuropsychological tests: Administration, norms, and commentary (3rd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.
Toutkoushian R.K., Curtis T. (2005). Effects of socioeconomic factors on public high school outcomes and rankings. Journal of Educational Research, 98(5), 259271.
Turkheimer E., Haley A., Waldron M., D’Onofrio B., Gottesman I.I. (2003). Socioeconomic status modifies heritability of IQ in young children. Psychological Science, 14(6), 623628.
Tuvblad C., Grann M., Lichtenstein P. (2006). Heritability for adolescent antisocial behavior differs with socioeconomic status: Gene-environment interaction. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47(7), 734743.
Vakil E., Blachstein H., Sheinman M., Greenstein Y. (2009). Developmental changes in attention tests norms: Implications for the structure of attention. Child Neuropsychology, 15(1), 2139.
Vygotsky L.S., Kozulin A. (1986). Thought and language (Translation newly rev. and edited / ed.). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Walker D., Greenwood C., Hart B., Carta J. (1994). Prediction of school outcomes based on early language production and socioeconomic factors. Child Development, 65(2 Spec No), 606621.
Wechsler D. (1994). Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (3rd ed.). London: Psychological Corporation.
Winsler A., Diaz R.M., Atencio D.J., McCarthy E.M., Chabay L.A. (2000). Verbal self-regulation over time in preschool children at risk for attention and behavior problems. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines, 41(7), 875886.
Zivin G. (1979). The development of self-regulation through private speech. New York: Wiley.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society
  • ISSN: 1355-6177
  • EISSN: 1469-7661
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-the-international-neuropsychological-society
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 68
Total number of PDF views: 715 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 2486 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 22nd October 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.