Cash Aid to Moms May Result in Smarter Babies

Study shows gains in development for infants
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 25, 2022 11:29 AM CST
Giving Cash to Poor Moms May Help Babies' Brains
Stock photo.   (Getty/FotoDuets)

It's a study loaded with political implications—researchers say giving cash aid to low-income mothers appears to help the brain development of their babies. The New York Times reports the difference spotted after one year is modest, the equivalent of "moving to the 75th position in a line of 100 from the 81st." But it's nonetheless seen as statistically significant and was eliciting quotes like this:

  • Big deal: "This is a big scientific finding," says neuroscientist Martha J. Farah of the University of Pennsylvania. "It's proof that just giving the families more money, even a modest amount of more money, leads to better brain development." Farah reviewed the study for the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, which published it Monday.
  • With a caveat: "It's potentially a groundbreaking study," says Harvard's Charles A. Nelson III, a consultant on the study. "If I was a policymaker, I'd pay attention to this, but it would be premature of me to pass a bill that gives every family $300 a month." Nelson thinks the results must be backed up by cognitive tests, not just by measuring brain patterns.

  • The money: The study involves 1,000 mothers and their infants, who were randomly divided into two groups—the mothers in one group got $20 a month, the others $333, per Bloomberg. Most had an average household income of $20,000. The new results come after one year; the study—called Baby's First Years—continues for four years.
  • The reasons: As to how the money might have improved the babies' development, the researchers can only speculate. A better diet, improved health care, and more time for the mothers to be with their babies might be factors.
  • Politics: As Axios notes, the results come after President Biden's child tax credit program expired at the end of last year. Under that program, families received up to $300 per month for kids under 6. If the results hold up, they could factor into future debates on government aid.
(More babies stories.)

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