Poverty is linked to poor planning skills

Low-income students aren’t as good at planning, focus and attention as more advantaged classmates, concludes a study in Child Development.

Third graders’ ability to solve a puzzle predicted fifth-grade math and reading achievement, even when IQ was taken into account, reports Education Week.


Cornell researchers asked children to play  “Tower of Hanoi,” which requires rebuilding a stack of rings of decreasing size on one of two other poles, moving only one ring at a time and always keeping a smaller ring on top of a larger one. “The puzzle requires students to plan their steps out in advance to avoid backing themselves into a corner, and being able to complete the puzzle quickly and with the minimal number of moves also requires focus and attention skills,” Ed Week.

The greater the level of poverty students experienced in their early childhood, the worse they performed on the puzzle.

Researchers blamed the stress of growing up in poverty.

“Low-income families are bombarded with numerous psychological and physical risk factors: … chaotic living environments, relentless financial pressure, familial disorder and instability, and social isolation,” the authors noted. “These circumstances could lead to an inability to focus on everyday tasks necessary for the development of planning skills.”

Surely, there’s also a correlation between poor planning skills, school failure, poorly timed pregnancy and poverty.

I’m not sure I could solve that puzzle.

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  1. Stacy in NJ says:

    “Surely, there’s also a correlation between poor planning skills, school failure, poorly timed pregnancy and poverty.”

    Does poverty cause poor planning skills or do poor planning skills cause poverty?

    And this is why parents who look to raise up their kids from poverty tend to be strict disciplinarians. These parents tend to use types of discipline like spanking that middle-class and affluent parents reject. And, this is why successful charter schools in high poverty areas tend to use highly structured models with uniforms and behavior codes. They’re over compensating for an environment that discourages planning and self-discipline. And, this is why the “right-thinking” folks in academia from primarily middle-class and affluent backgrounds have utterly failed to understand the needs of children of poverty.

    • do poor planning skills cause poverty?

      And planning skills are heritable.

      • Richard Aubrey says:

        There is a word for the concept of “behavior so closely associated with the family environment that it may as well be heritable”.
        Don’t know what it is.
        I have a theory that if the family environment includes consistency in discipline and routine, then trying to figure something out is rewarding because the universe, such as a kid might see it, makes sense. If the environment is random in its discipline and routine and what the parents say from day to day, then the universe is random and trying to figure something out, predict something, make a plan based on experience, are all not particularly rewarding because the expected result may not happen. So why bother learning, or learning to learn.
        Figured this all out from Herbie, a genius lab rat in behavioral psych.

  2. GoogleMaster says:

    Calling Captain Obvious…

  3. Roger Sweeny says:

    Perhaps having an unplanned pregnancy correlates with poor planning skills.

  4. Does the puzzle really test “planning skills”?

    I can think of a number of people who could solve the puzzle easily but who can’t keep track of their appointments. And vice versa.

    Planning skills and multi-step thinking are not the same.

  5. “Poverty is linked to poor planning skills”… In other words, water is wet, fire is hot, and it gets dark when the Sun goes down below the horizon.

    And poor decision making and planning skills = lower IQ. So, we see that all these things are starting to come together in ways we may not like… We may have to actually eventually admit that some people (as in some individuals, not grouping by generalizations here) simply don’t have the CPU or RAM needed to do the things that we wish everyone could do. Admitting that is the first step to finding those people better lives to live, and to stop throwing money away in the education system.

  6. I can’t help admiring the superior planning skills of the 6 principal Walmart heirs who between them have more money than the bottom 40% of their fellow Americans. They had the forethought to be born to the right people. From there they have worked their way up the ladder of success by the hard work involved in lifting money, pointing out to the maid the spot that she missed, and lets not forget those grueling hot summer days spent telling the gardeners to work faster.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      Ray, how about I agree that the Walmart heirs did nothing to deserve getting money handed to them and you agree that many people are poor because they have poor planning skills, or worse?

      • Stacy in NJ says:

        If they exhibit poor planning skills, eventually the Walmart heirs will end up in poverty.

        • That is true of anyone who has money, whether they inherited it, won it in a lottery or earned it in certain ways. It’s not uncommon for lottery winners to end up broke, and I gather the same goes for some entertainers and professional athlete. Without decent planning skills and the ability to delay gratification, the money doesn’t last.

          • Re: Lotto Winners

            To be a lotto winner, you have to buy a lotto ticket.
            To buy a lotto ticket, you have to be bad at math and financial planning.

            ergo, the sort of people who win money in the lotto are probably MORE likely to go broke quickly than the average person.

            For instance, my husband and I talk about “If we won the lotto” and how much we’d invest for a steady income vs. give away (basically, keep enough to give us a total income of 75K a year with his job, because why would he quit? He LIKES his job), etc. etc.

            BUT because we can do math, we never actually buy a ticket. There are better uses for our money!~

    • I can’t help admiriring the superior planning skills of Sam Walton, who managed to create a successful corporation, employ hundreds of thousands of people and provide services and products to millions; and them managed to leave the accumulated wealth of his hard work to his children.

    • By the way, one of the Walton heirs served as an enlisted man in the Army during the Vietnam War, and served a tour in Vietnam with his special forces team.

      • John Walton, who later gave millions of dollars to charter schools and other education causes, dropped out of college to join the Army, volunteered for the Green Berets and won the Silver Star for bravery in a combat operation in Laos.

        Sam Walton gave most of WalMart to his children when the company was small. They didn’t pay any inheritance taxes, because they didn’t inherit anything. They already owned it. I don’t know if he foresaw his company’s huge success or . . .