The researchers found that children from families of higher socioeconomic status had better language abilities at nursery school age and that these verbal skills boosted their later academic performance throughout the school.
For the findings, published in the journal Child Development, the researchers looked at data from nearly 700 British children.
The children’s pre-school ability was tested at four-years-old and their educational outcomes were tracked throughout school up until the age of 16.
According to the researchers, differences in language skills between children explained around 50 per cent of the effect of family background on children’s achievement in the first year of school.
This achievement gap widened over the course of their education, the study suggests.
“Children from more advantaged backgrounds are more familiar before starting school with the language patterns and linguistic codes that are used in formal educational settings and are expected by teachers,” Stumm said.
“Not all children get the same start in life, but this study highlights the importance of helping parents of all backgrounds to engage with their children in activities which enhance verbal skills – such as reading bedtime stories and engaging the child in conversations,” Stumm added.
According to the researchers, activities designed to improve verbal skills boost cognitive, social and emotional development, in addition to benefitting parent-child bonding.
The researchers also looked at non-verbal ability at nursery school age and found that it had a smaller, but never-the-less significant role in explaining the link between background inequalities and academic success.
Children from high socioeconomic backgrounds were at an advantage when it came to their non-verbal skills – such as solving puzzles, drawing shapes and copying actions – before they started school, the researchers said.