Academic success shaped by family income in first 1,000 days of life - study

Relative poverty experienced during the first 1,000 days of life has a negative impact on the achievements of students; relative wealth during this period has a positive impact.

 The amount of money parents have in the first 1,000 days of a child's life can significantly impact their future academic achievements, a new Israeli study suggests (Illustrative). (photo credit: PIXABAY)
The amount of money parents have in the first 1,000 days of a child's life can significantly impact their future academic achievements, a new Israeli study suggests (Illustrative).
(photo credit: PIXABAY)

The economic situation of a family in Israel during the first thousand days of their child’s life – from when it was a fetus to the age of two – has a profound influence on the child’s life outcomes, according to a new study at the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Jerusalem.

Produced as part of the center’s Initiative on Early Childhood Development and Inequality supported by the Bernard van Leer Foundation, the Beracha Foundation and Yad Hanadiv, it examines the effect of family income until fifth grade and found the period until age two is a particularly critical period of development and family income has a major impact on achievement in primary school.

Researched and written by Dana Shay and Prof. Yossi Shavit, the researchers looked into the effect of annual family income – from pregnancy until the age of 11 – on scores on the Meitzav exams in fifth grade in mathematics, science, English (as a second language), and language arts (in the mother tongue).

Relative poverty experienced during the first 1,000 days of life has a negative impact on the achievements of students on the Meitzav exams in fifth grade; relative wealth during this period has a positive impact.

Lower income means lower academic achievement, higher income yields positive impact

Belonging to the lower quintile of the income distribution during this period leads to lower achievement in all of the subjects on the Meitzav exams given in fifth grade – mathematics, English (as a second language), science, and language arts (Hebrew, for Jews only) – and the relationship is statistically significant. This result is obtained after controlling for family income at later ages, parents’ level of education, family size, gender, sector and birth weight.

 New Israeli Shekel banknotes are seen in this picture illustration taken November 9, 2021 (credit: REUTERS/NIR ELIAS) New Israeli Shekel banknotes are seen in this picture illustration taken November 9, 2021 (credit: REUTERS/NIR ELIAS)

Belonging to the upper quintile of the income distribution during the 1,000 days of life has a positive and statistically significant impact on achievement. It was found that belonging to the lowest quintile of the income distribution during the 1,000 days of life leads to about four percent of a standard deviation decline in future academic achievement in mathematics, while belonging to the highest quintile during this period leads to an improvement of about 11% of a standard deviation. Household income at later ages does not in general have such an effect, apart from the years just before the Meitzav exams at ages 10-11. The study’s findings, wrote the authors, are particularly important given the high rates of poverty during early childhood in Israel and the large economic disparities between the socioeconomic groups

The study validates two well-known claims in the research literature: The first is that poverty experienced at an early stage in life has negative and statistically significant effects on achievements later in life. The second states that when disparities between the upper class and the rest of the population are particularly large, as they are in Israel, the members of the upper-income groups will also attain higher academic achievements in the future. This deserves attention, they concluded, particularly in Israel where economic inequality and relative poverty among children are high compared to other developed countries.

In comparison to other OECD countries, there are large income disparities between population groups and primarily between the highest income earners and those at the bottom of the income distribution.

“This means that in Israel the strongest socioeconomic group is differentiated from the rest of the population with respect to the academic achievements of their children. This group is better able to nurture their children as a result of the resources available to them, which can be used to obtain better nutrition for mothers and their babies, better medical care and diagnosis, higher quality early childhood education and care, etc. This may help explain the wide gaps in academic achievement among the socioeconomic groups in Israel,” according to researchers Dana Shay and Yossi Shavit.

The study supports the claim that families’ income during the first thousand days of life have a major effect on future academic achievement.

“This research demonstrates the great importance of the early childhood years, showing that the socioeconomic situation of the child and his family during these formative years may be among the most substantial determinants of a child’s future success.”

Prof. Avi Weiss

Prof. Avi Weiss, president of the Taub Center added: “This research demonstrates the great importance of the early childhood years, showing that the socioeconomic situation of the child and his family during these formative years may be among the most substantial determinants of a child’s future success.”