The number of children born to an individual mother has an influence on cognitive development. It has been shown that the highest cognitive achievement results for those children born first. Relationships of family size to cognitive development in early childhood indicate that, on average, later children tend to develop less well than first horns. Hence, one consequence of increasing female education may be to reduce fertility thereby increasing average preschool cognitive ability in families having fewer children.
During Pregnancy and At Birth
Mother's education is associated with the prenatal and postnatal health of children. In the United States, it has been found that poorly educated mothers are more likely to suffer malnutrition, to smoke, and to abuse alcohol and drugs during pregnancy than more highly educated parents. Closely associated with these adverse activities are low birthweight and prematurity of birth of babies.
Premature, low birthweight babies are almost forty times as likely to die in their first month of life as normal term and weight infants. Additionally, low-birthweight babies tend to have learning disability rates 40 to 45 percent higher than normal weight babies, and they show high rates of language and literacy development problems.
Intrauterine Learning. Research also shows that before babies are born, they can learn while in the womb. They can respond to sounds conducted through the skin of the abdomen and the fluids of the womb. They can be startled by jarring movements and loud, raucous sounds. Because the ears and hearing mechanisms are omnidirectional, the sounds impinge upon the preborn without the child having to pay attention. However, studies have shown that preborns can learn to associate a sound with a forthcoming jarring movement of the mother's abdomen. Thus when the sound occurs, the preborn exhibits agitated movements suggesting anticipation of the forthcoming jarring movement. This intrauterine learning helps the preborn develop early memory and attention processes for learning and cognitive development after birth. In particular, the preborn and newborn infants are predisposed to listen to sounds and to acquire language.
Before Going To School
Studies have shown that mother's education is related to children's preschool nutrition and health, and with increased survival rates of children. Additionally, mothers exert a strong influence on children's cognitive and language development. Preschool cognitive development has strong effects on achievement in academic skills in schools, and these effects may persist into adulthood. For all ethnic groups, mother's education is a strong predictor of educational achievement. Across a wide variety of content areas, such as science, electronics, mathematics, automotive and shop knowledge, and others, mother's education is strongly related to young adult's performance on tests of knowledge in these areas.