Language input to infants of different socioeconomic statuses: A quantitative meta-analysis.
For the past 25 years, researchers have investigated language input to children from high- and low-socioeconomic status (SES) families. Hart and Risley first reported a "30 Million Word Gap" between high-SES and low-SES children. More recent studies have challenged the size or even existence of this gap. The present study is a quantitative meta-analysis on socioeconomic differences in language input to young children, which aims to systematically integrate decades of research on this topic. We analyzed 19 studies and found a significant effect of SES on language input quantity. However, this effect was moderated by the type of language included in language quantity measures: studies that include only child-directed speech in their language measures find a large SES difference, while studies that include all speech in a child's environment find no effect of SES. These results support recent work suggesting that methodological decisions can affect researchers' estimates of the "word gap." Overall, we find that young children from low-SES homes heard less child-directed speech than children from mid- to high-SES homes, though this difference was much smaller than Hart & Risley's "30 Million Word Gap." Finally, we underscore the need for more cross-cultural work on language development and the forces that may contribute to it, highlighting the opportunity for better integration of observational, experimental, and intervention-based approaches.
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