New study links brain structure and level of affluence

More and more students in the U.S. public school system are coming from low-income families and the achievement gap among poor and more affluent students continues to widen. A recent first-of-its-kind study suggests that youth from low-income families also have smaller brains than youth from affluent families. Though the study produced some alarming findings, researchers are not quite sure why there are differences in size. (WaPo, 4/15)

Neuroscientists who studied the brain scans of nearly 1,100 children and young adults nationwide from ages 3 to 20 found that the surface area of the cerebral cortex was linked to family income. They discovered that the brains of children in families that earned less than $25,000 a year had surface areas 6 percent smaller than those whose families earned $150,000 or more. The poor children also scored lower on average on a battery of cognitive tests.

The region of the brain in question handles language, memory, spatial skills and reasoning, all important to success in school and beyond.


The new research does not explain possible reasons for the brain differences. And that has created concern that the findings will harden stereotypes and give an impression that children who are born into poverty lack the physical capacity to succeed academically.

“Some people feel if you show these brain differences, you’re politically condemning the poor,” [neuroscientist from a similiar study, John] Gabrieli said. “Which is the opposite, I think, of what we need to do. I think we want to understand adversity and minimize adversity.”

IMMIGRATION/VIRGINIA | The Commonwealth Institute takes a look at some of the important data behind the benefits unauthorized immigrants can bring to a community’s economy, with particular attention to how protecting immigrants who pay state and local taxes in Virginia could provide a boost. (Commonwealth Institute, 4/16)

AFFORDABLE HOUSING | A report from the office of the D.C. Chief Financial Officer finds that nearly one in five houses in the city costs more than $1 million. As for the D.C. rental market – although the vacancy rate is expected to rise over the next few years, rents are also expected to continue to rise annually. (WCP, 4/14)

WORKFORCE | About 17 percent of the American labor force works in jobs that use on-call scheduling practices. Inconsistent work schedules, however, can prove to be very challenging for those trying to organize their everyday lives and make a livable wage. (Atlantic, 4/15)

Employees can wind up spending time, and money, commuting to their job, only to be told to leave early, or that they’re not needed at all that day. A sudden call to work can mean scrambling for child care, or turning down much-needed hours. And a constantly shifting schedule can lead to uneven earnings, with income spiking in some months and plummeting in others, making it incredibly difficult to budget. For students using part-time jobs to make ends meet, schedule changes can mean making a choice between attending class and earning enough money to pay tuition. For workers with kids, it can mean a constant struggle to find and afford child care. The problem is bigger than mere inconvenience.

Working, but Needing Public Assistance Anyway (NYT, 4/12)

EVENTS | The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and Grant Writing USA will hold a two-day grants workshop June 1-2. The training will be held for grant seekers across all disciplines who want to learn how to find grants and write winning proposals. For more information, click here.

ENVIRONMENT | D.C. and Arlington, VA came in at number two and three, respectively, in a list of America’s 10 Greenest Cities. (Forbes, 4/15)

FOOD | States Tighten Food-Stamps Rules as Economy Recovers (Chronicle, 4/14)

The Washington Wizards have a brand new logo.

– Ciara