Racial Gaps in Early Childhood: Socio-emotional Health, Developmental, and Educational Outcomes Among African-American Boys

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This is an excerpt from the full report.


The aims of this study are to examine racial gaps in cognitive and socio-emotional development among boys in early childhood and to identify factors that contribute to early resilience among African-American boys. Our main research questions include:

  • What racial gaps emerge across cognitive and socioemotional development in early childhood among African-American infant, toddler, preschooler, and kindergarten boys and white-American boys?
  • Do these gaps remain after controlling for family socio-economic status (SES) and other child, family, and home environment characteristics?
  • What factors contribute to early resilience and buffer against these risks among African-American boys?

A wealth of literature documents racial gaps and poor outcomes of school-age African-American children across a range of domains, including educational achievement measured by indicators such as test scores and rates of school exclusion. African-American children and youth are two-to-three times more likely to be suspended from schools. In particular, African- American boys perform poorly compared with white boys or African-American girls in different educational outcomes. Data from 2003 to 2009 indicate that by fourth grade, African-American boys in public schools score about 30 points lower in reading than white boys, and this gap remains at eighth grade. Research also shows a similar trend in mathematic achievement. At fourth grade, African-American boys score about 30 points lower than white boys and the gap increases to close to 40 points by eighth grade.

African-American boys also lag behind their female counterparts. While girls in general perform better in K-12 and in higher education than boys, gender differences among African-American groups are larger than among other groups. African-American women account for 62 percent of all African-American undergraduates and two-thirds of those who earn an associate’s degree.

An increasing number of research studies emphasize the importance of early childhood in determining one’s adult socio-economic outcomes. Early childhood development can have a long-term impact on later school achievement. Yet, less information is available on the early emergence of gaps across a range of cognitive and socio-emotional outcomes.

For optimal personal and collective development of children and adolescents, five developmental domain factors are considered important: identity, emotion, social, cognition, and physical health. While early childhood is a critical stage, research rarely compares the racial gap across different outcomes during early childhood stages from nine months to kindergarten. Specifically, at nine and 24 months African-American boys score lower on cognitive assessments, manifest poorer health outcomes, and exhibit less secure attachments. The factors that contribute to these early gaps or that are protective against poor outcomes are less clearly understood. Thus, it is important to identify when and how racial disparities among African-American and white boys emerge in early childhood and to examine factors that can contribute to early resilience.

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