Neighbourhood socioeconomic status indices and early childhood development
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The developmental health of young children is highly influenced by the socioeconomic conditions in which they are raised. How to accurately measure these conditions is a point of debate in the current literature on child development, health, and social determinants. We have evaluated four existing indices of socioeconomic status (SES) to determine the most relevant for the analysis of early childhood development (ECD) in Canada. Following a literature review of published SES indices which used 2006 Canadian Census data, four indices were chosen based on their relevance to ECD and the number of citations in subsequent articles. These were: the Canadian Deprivation Index, the Socioeconomic Factor Index, the Canadian Marginalization Index and an index created by the Early Childhood Mapping Project in Alberta, Canada. The indices were replicated using SES data for 2038 customized geographic neighbourhoods encompassing 99.9% of the Canadian population, and the relationship of the indices to ECD was investigated by linking to aggregated data from the Early Development Instrument (EDI), a teacher-completed questionnaire used to assess kindergarten children's physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development, and communication skills. The derived SES indices were compared based on four criteria: the input variables used, the index structure, the interpretability of the index and the variance they explained (R2) in the different EDI outcome measures. In terms of variance explained, material components of the SES indices (e.g., income, education) consistently showed the strongest association with children's language and cognitive development. The patterns of association for the non-material SES components and the other developmental domains of the EDI were more complex. We discuss the findings in regard to current developments in the field, and the need for refining empirical and theoretical approaches to examine associations between different facets of SES contextual factors and different aspects of ECD outcomes.