Receptive vocabulary develops rapidly in early childhood and builds the foundation for language acquisition and literacy. Variation in receptive vocabulary ability is associated with variation in children's school achievement, and low receptive vocabulary ability is a risk factor for under-achievement at school. In this study, bivariate and multivariate growth curve modelling was used to estimate trajectories of receptive vocabulary development in relation to a wide range of candidate child, maternal and family level influences on receptive vocabulary development from 4–8 years. The study sample comprised 4332 children from the first nationally representative Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC). Predictors were modeled as risk variables with the lowest level of risk as the reference category. In the multivariate model, risks for receptive vocabulary delay at 4 years, in order of magnitude, were: Maternal Non-English Speaking Background (NESB), low school readiness, child not read to at home, four or more siblings, low family income, low birthweight, low maternal education, maternal mental health distress, low maternal parenting consistency, and high child temperament reactivity. None of these risks were associated with a lower rate of growth from 4–8 years. Instead, maternal NESB, low school readiness and maternal mental health distress were associated with a higher rate of growth, although not sufficient to close the receptive vocabulary gap for children with and without these risks at 8 years. Socio-economic area disadvantage, was not a risk for low receptive vocabulary ability at 4 years but was the only risk associated with a lower rate of growth in receptive vocabulary ability. At 8 years, the gap between children with and without socio-economic area disadvantage was equivalent to eight months of receptive vocabulary growth. These results are consistent with other studies that have shown that social gradients in children's developmental outcomes increase over time.
Authored by Catherine L. Taylor, Daniel Christensen, David Lawrence, Francis Mitrou, and Stephen R. Zubrick.