social-emotional development.35 Constant exposure to these extreme levels of stress
ultimately places young people in situations that deprive them of the basic human rights
enumerated in the CRC.36
Poverty elevates human stress levels in a manner that can impact both an
individual’s normal developmental processes and capacity to create a buffer from major
life stressors. In a now well-known study on “the 30 million word gap,” socioeconomic
status has been linked to linguistic development, where the size of childhood
vocabularies is shaped, in part, by parental occupation and income levels.37 One
explanation of this linguistic gap is varying levels of parental stimulation.38 However,
recent neuroscience studies have attributed the linguistic gap to variances in young
people’s ability to focus and pay attention in addition to variances in parental occupation
and income.39 Not only does poverty influence early developmental pathways, but it also
affects adults’ ability to navigate life scenarios.40 Recognizing that cognition is a finite
resource, the daily challenges associated with surviving poverty consume high levels of
people’s available cognitive capacity, leaving minimal space for activities associated with
upward mobility, such as continued education.41 As indicated by both the linguistic gap
and differences among spare cognitive capacity, poverty can significantly affect life
outcomes in ways that make individuals more vulnerable to adverse experiences like
35 BRUCE D. PERRY & MAIA SZALAVITZ, THE BOY WHO WAS RAISED AS A DOG AND OTHER STORIES FROM
A CHILD PSYCHIATRIST’S NOTEBOOK 39, 146–47 (2006).
36 See infra Part II.
37 Hart & Risley, supra note 34, at 8. Researchers found a profound difference in the vocabularies of three-year-old children from low-income households and those in high-income households. Id. at 7. For example,
children from families on welfare had smaller vocabularies and added words more slowly than children
from professional families. Id.
38 Id. at 8. The initial studies linked this linguistic gap to families in poverty using fewer words with their
children and speaking to their children less frequently. Id. at 7.
39Martha J. Farah, Mind, Brain, and Education in Socioeconomic Context, in THE DEVELOPMENTAL
RELATIONS AMONG MIND, BRAIN AND EDUCATION, 243, 245 (Michel Ferarri & Ljiljana Vuletic eds.,
40 See Anandi Mani et al., Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function, 341 SCI. 976, 976 (2013) (noting that “[a]
variety of studies point to a correlation between poverty and counterproductive behavior. The poor use less
preventative healthcare, fail to adhere to drug regimens, are tardier and less likely to keep appointments, are
less productive workers, less attentive parents, and worse managers of their finances”) (internal citations
41 See id. (suggesting a “causal, not merely correlational, relationship between poverty and mental
function”). “The human cognitive system has limited capacity. Preoccupations with pressing budgetary
concerns leave fewer cognitive resources available to guide choice and action.” Id. (internal citations
omitted). Therefore, “the poor, when attending to monetary concerns, lose their capacity to give other
problems their full consideration.” Id.
42 JULIA SHAW, EUROPEAN ASS’N OF PSYCHOLOGY & THE LAW, FACT SHEET: FORENSIC RISK ASSESSMENT
1-2 (2011), available at
Assessment2.pdf. Low social achievement, low socioeconomic status, and low intellectual functioning are
all predictive of re-offending. Id.