Racial Gaps in Early Childhood: Socio-Emotional Health, Developmental, and Educational Outcomes Among African-American Boys

by Janice L. Cooper; Vanessa R. Wight; Yumiko Aratani

Apr 30, 2011

Using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort, this study examines racial gaps in cognitive and socio-emotional development of boys in early childhood and identifies factors that contribute to early resilience among African-American boys.
  • Even after controlling for family socio-economic status, African-American boys have significantly lower scores on socio-emotional development from 9 months to pre-school age.
  • African-American boys score lower than white boys in reading, math, and language skills assessments at pre-school age and kindergarten, but higher or the same once socio-economic status, financial resources, and demographic characteristics are controlled for.
  • Observation: Evidence of racial gaps in socio-emotional development began as early as nine months and continued until preschool-age, and the gaps remained even after controlling for demographic and family characteristics, but they were no longer significant at kindergarten.
  • Observation: Racial gaps, though small, emerged in cognitive development at 24 months and remained after accounting for racial differences in demographic and family characteristics.
  • Observation: Racial disparities in math and reading scores appeared to be largely due to differences in demographic and family characteristics, such as low birthweight, socio-economic status, and financial resources.
  • Observation: Among African-American toddlers, maternal education contributed to above average cognitive development; by preschool, maternal mental health and access to toys appeared as protective factors associated with socio-emotional development.
  • Maternal mental health and access to toys contribute to improved socio-emotional development of preschool-age African-American boys.
  • Maternal education and family resources and assets are shown to support resiliency in cognitive development among African-American toddler boys (24 months).
  • Policy recommendations include: early mental health prevention and intervention for African-American boys, behavioral/mental health programs for mothers with young children, and increased educational opportunities for mothers.