December 2021

What We’re Reading

Can public policies that increase financial resources for families with low income reduce socioeconomic disparities in brain development and mental health? A fascinating new pre-print study by David G. Weissman and colleagues addresses this question. Doing so has not been previously possible, because neuroimaging studies are typically conducted in a single community. However, as the authors explain, they leveraged…

“A unique opportunity provided by the Adolescent Behavior and Cognitive Development (ABCD) study, which provided harmonized neuroimaging data from 11,534 youth across 21 sites (in 17 states) that differed in cost of living and anti-poverty policy climates. Lower SES was associated with smaller hippocampal volume, higher internalizing psychopathology, and greater exposure to stressful life events, but the magnitude of these associations varied significantly across states. The association of SES with hippocampal volume was about 37% smaller in states where cost of living was high but that provided more generous cash benefits for lower SES families as compared to states with less generous benefits. In high cost of living states where antipoverty programs were more generous, the association between SES and hippocampal volume resembled that of low cost of living states. Similar patterns were observed for internalizing psychopathology and stressful life events. These findings demonstrate that macroeconomic conditions moderate the degree to which family income influences children’s neurodevelopment and mental health and that anti-poverty policies exert a buffering effect against the negative impacts of low SES.”