Differing Cognitive Trajectories of Mexican American Toddlers: The Role of Class, Nativity, and Maternal Practices

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Fuller, Bruce; Bein, Edward; Kim, Yoonjeon; Rabe-Hesketh, Sophia
Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences
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08-06-2015 3:55 PM
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Recent studies reveal early and wide gaps in cognitive and oral language skillswhether gauged in English or Spanishamong Latino children relative to White peers. Yet, other work reports robust child health and social development, even among children of Mexican American immigrants raised in poor households, the so-called immigrant advantage. To weigh the extent to which Mexican heritage or foreign-born status contributes to early growth, we first compare levels of cognitive and communicative skills among children of Mexican American and native-born White mothers at 9 and 24 months of age, drawing from a national sample of births in 2001. Just one fifth of Mexican American toddlers kept pace with the cognitive growth of White toddlers at or above their mean rate of growth through 24 months of age, matched on their 9-month cognitive status. We then assess how factors from developmental-risk or ecocultural theory help to explain which Mexican American toddlers kept pace with White peers. Growth was stronger among toddlers whose family did not live beneath the poverty line, and whose mothers reported higher school attainment, more frequent learning activities, and exhibited steadier praise during a videotaped interaction task, factors more weakly observed among foreign-born Mexican American mothers. We found little evidence that foreign-born mothers exercised stronger home practices that advanced toddlers' early cognitive growth as posited by immigrant-advantage theory. The positive factors emphasized by developmental-risk theory helped to explain variation in the cognitive growth of children of native-born, but not foreign-born, Mexican mothers.
Socioeconomic Status
Oral Language
Home Environment and Language Practices
English Learners
English Learners