Poverty Eradication – Definition, Debates, etc.

Poverty’s Impact on Brain Development


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NA

Mains level: Poverty and cognitive development

poverty brain


  • In 1844, Frederich Engels observed that poor living conditions had physical effects on the poor, manifesting in various health issues.
  • Neuroscientists in the 1960s discovered that growing up in poverty could hinder brain development in rats.
  • Recent studies have shown a correlation between low-income families and lower cortical volume, poor academic performance, and smaller hippocampus in human children.

The Link between Poverty and Brain Development

  • Poverty’s Effect on the Brain: Poverty has been found to affect brain development in children and young adults.
  • Cortex and Academic Performance: Studies in 2015 revealed that children from low-income families had lower cortical volume and performed poorly in academic tests.
  • Importance of the Hippocampus: Another study in 2015 highlighted the correlation between family socioeconomic status and the volume of the hippocampus, a key region for learning and memory.

New Study on Anti-Poverty Policies and Hippocampus Size

  • The Study: Researchers from Harvard University and Washington University conducted a study published in May 2023 in the journal Nature Communication.
  • Data: The study analyzed brain scans of over 10,000 children aged 9-11 from 17 U.S. states with varying costs of living and anti-poverty programs.
  • Findings: Children from low-income families had a smaller hippocampus, but generous anti-poverty policies significantly reduced this risk.
  • State-Level Public Policies: The study highlights the potential of state-level public policies to address the correlation between brain development and low income.

Implications for Children’s Health and Well-being

  • Psychological Impact: Impaired hippocampal development is associated with a higher risk of mental health issues such as major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Internalizing and Externalizing Psychopathologies: The study found a negative association between family income and the incidence of internalizing and externalizing psychopathologies in children.
  • Impact of Anti-Poverty Policies: Generous cash benefits were associated with larger hippocampal volumes and reduced internalizing problems in low-income households.

Considerations and Limitations

  • Systemic Discrimination: Poverty is often a result of systematic discrimination, such as racial disparities.
  • Alternative Explanations: The study aimed to rule out alternative explanations, including racial and ethnic factors, but acknowledges the need for further investigation.
  • Applicability to Other Contexts: The study’s findings may not directly apply to other countries like India, given different macroeconomic conditions.

Role of Welfare and Policy

  • Financial Resources and Stressors: Access to more financial resources can help shield families from chronic stressors associated with low income, potentially influencing hippocampal development.
  • Generous Anti-Poverty Policies: Such policies not only increase family income but also enable families to make decisions that reduce stress, such as working fewer hours.
  • Investing in Social Safety Net Programs: Investments in social safety net programs can mitigate socioeconomic disparities in neurodevelopment, addressing mental health, education, and economic challenges.


  • Longitudinal Study: The researchers will continue studying the mental health and brain development trajectories of the study’s participants to examine the influence of policy changes.
  • Importance of Social Safety Net Programs: The study underscores the significance of investing in social safety net programs to address the consequences of socioeconomic disparities in brain development.

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