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Research Summary

The effect of social disadvantage on motor development in young children:  a comparative study
McPhillips M, Jordan-Black J-A.  Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 2007; 48 (12):  1214 - 1222


Empirical research suggests that social disadvantage has a negative effect on the development of language, and related cognitive skills such as reading. There is, however, no corresponding body of research on the impact of social disadvantage on motor development. The primary purpose of this study was to investigate the impact of social disadvantage on motor development in young children. In addition, we explored a possible link between an early neuromotor indicator and attainments in language, and reading.


The Northern Ireland Multiple Deprivation Measure was used to identify two contrasting districts based on a composite measure of social disadvantage. We investigated the effect of social disadvantage on the motor attainments of a sample of 239 children aged 4–5 years, and 276 children aged 7–8 years attending mainstream schools in each district using a standardised motor assessment battery, and a motor neurodevelopmental measure. We used standardised receptive language and reading assessments to evaluate possible associations between motor and language/reading attainments.


There was a significant negative effect of social disadvantage on motor skills, for both age groups, and for both males and females. A similar negative effect of social disadvantage on attainments in language, and reading was also found. Children from areas of social disadvantage had significant deficits in motor and receptive language attainments relative to their more advantaged peers. In addition, we revealed a significant predictive relationship between a neurodevelopmental measure of early motor development and reading attainment.


Children growing up in socially disadvantaged areas may be at particular risk of motor, including neurodevelopmental, delay, as well as language and reading difficulties. The determinants of motor and neuromotor deficits in children from disadvantaged backgrounds should be explored, and the relationship between early neuromotor development and language/reading development requires further investigation.