Background and objectives
Prior research has established steep socioeconomic status (SES) disparities in children’s cognitive skills at kindergarten entry. Yet, few studies have had comprehensive, multi-informant data to examine SES-related differences in foundational social and emotional skills and executive function. The objective of the current study is to systematically examine SES-related differences in young children’s executive function (EF), self-regulation skills, and behaviors.
The current study analyzed data on 2,309 young children from the Early Learning Study at Harvard (ELS@H). Multi-method (direct-assessment and reports) and multi-informant (parents and early education and care educators) information on children’s executive function, self-regulation skills, and internalizing, externalizing, and adaptive behaviors were used. A parametric framework employing Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) estimation was used to quantify the size of the SES-related differences in this set of children’s foundational social-emotional skills.
On average, there were differences of 0.24–0.45 SD for EF, 0.22–0.32 SD for self-regulation skills, and 0.27–0.54 SD for behaviors favoring children from the highest SES quartile of the distribution of SES relative to children from the lowest quartile. The SES-related differences were consistent across direct assessment, parent reports, and educator reports. Some differences were larger for older children relative to their younger counterparts.
Findings indicate a need for comprehensive intervention efforts well before kindergarten entry aimed at closing early disparities in children’s foundational social and emotional skills and executive function.