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Cognitive and Neural Mechanisms Underlying Socioeconomic Gradients in Language Development: New Answers to Old Questions


  • Özlem Ece Demir,

    Corresponding author
    1. Northwestern University
    • Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Özlem Ece Demir, Roxelyn and Richard Pepper Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders, Northwestern University, 2240 Campus Drive, Frances Searle Building, Room 2-342, Evanston, IL 60208; e-mail:

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  • Aylin C. Küntay

    1. Koç University
    2. Utrecht University
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  • Özlem Ece Demir, Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders, Northwestern University; Aylin C. Küntay, Department of Psychology, Koç University, Educational and Learning Sciences, Utrecht University.
  • We thank Lauren R. Applebaum and Matthew E. Lira for comments on earlier versions of the manuscript.


Although researchers have studied disparities in early language development related to socioeconomic status (SES), it is unclear how early and through which mechanisms these differences emerge. As income inequality continues to widen across the world, it is crucial to examine the child-level mechanisms that mediate the effects of SES on individual differences in language development. A deeper understanding of the nature of the differences will allow development of more effective intervention techniques. In this article, we discuss work on child-level cognitive and neural mechanisms underlying the relation between SES and early language development. We discuss possible factors behind individual differences in child-level mechanisms and cascading effects of these differences. We conclude with recommendations for research.