Poverty and Cognitive Function

It would appear that people who are chronically poor have lower cognitive functioning than the well-off.[1] Of course, which way round causality is working is not clear from this finding alone. However, even temporary poverty appears to affect cognitive reasoning, even if nutrition, time to complete the cognitive test, and work-effects do not vary. This latter study was based on Indian farmers tested at various points as their wealth changed across the seasons.[2] The authors postulate that the stress associated with poverty consumes mental resources that are not available for other concerns. These results provide a further argument for focussing resources on the poorest of the poor. For instance, people in registered slums in India have many amenities that are denied those in unregistered slums.[2] It would be better to spread meagre resources even more thinly in order to provide at least some help those who are poorly equipped to help themselves.+

— Richard Lilford, CLAHRC WM Director


  1. Mani A, Mullainathan S, Shafir E, Zhao J. Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function. Science. 2013; 341: 976-80.
  2. Subbaraman R, O’Brien J, Shitole, T, et al. Off the map: the health and social implications of being a non-notified slum in India 2012. Environ Urban. 2012; 24(2): 643-63.

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