Questions about the impact of differential wealth and access to political power very often appear in everyday political debates. Typically, many people will either reduce, deflect, or deny the impact and implications of socio-economic differences. This is often the case in particular struggles where a particular advantaged group might accept that at an abstract or societal level socio-economic factors have a bearing, but not in terms of their specific situation.
Clyde Hertzman’s work at UBC’s Human Early Learning Partnership provides some clear evidence of the impact of differentials in wealth and also points the way toward effective solutions. Key among them is that areas that do not have adequate social support should be attended to and in other wares, where higher wealth provides adequate resources to begin with , are not as critical to attend to.
Society’s influence on child development would not necessitate it becoming a public issue if its influence were random across the population, or uniformly beneficial. But, in Canadian society, as in most of the wealthy countries of the world, society’s influence on child development is neither random nor uniformly beneficial. In Canada, inequalities in child development emerge in a systematic fashion over the first five years of life, according to well-recognized factors: family income, parental education, parenting style, neighbourhood safety and cohesion, neighbourhood socioeconomic differences, and access to quality child care and developmental opportunities. By age 5 a ‘gradient’ in early child development emerges, such that, as one goes from the families with the lowest to highest incomes; least to most parental education; and least to most nurturing and interactive parenting style, the average quality of early child experiences increases. This pattern is known as a gradient because it does not have a threshold. In other words, it is not just a question of poor children getting a ‘bad deal’ and the rest of our children ‘being in the same boat.’ Threats to healthy child development are found across the entire socioeconomic spectrum, though at increasing intensity as one goes from top to bottom. Thus, a concern for a good start in life is one that should unite families from all walks of life, and not separate the poor from the non-poor.
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