Researchers have discovered that race plays no role in the amount and quality of words mothers use with their children or with the language skills children later develop.
Published in the journal Child Development, the study evaluated the language use of black mothers in comparison with white mothers with the same education levels to measure the amount and complexity of the words they use with their infants and young children.
"Our findings represent a big shift from previous thinking that race-based differences in maternal language play a significant role in children's language outcomes," said Mary Bratsch-Hines from University of North Carolina in the US.
The current study followed 1 292 children from birth and is part of the Family Life Project which focuses on disentangling race, socioeconomic status and educational attainment to better understand the factors that influence child outcomes.
Researchers measured the interactions between mothers and their children during four picture book interactions in the home between the ages of 6 and 36 months.
It was found that maternal education played an important role in predicting the amount and quality of the mother's language use and the child's language development.
Maternal education was very related to children's later language at school age regardless of maternal race and that mothers' early language input quality and complexity were even more related to children's later language at school age, researchers said.
This study is significant because earlier studies generally included parents with higher incomes who were primarily white and parents with lower incomes who were primarily black. As a result, educators and other child professionals were not able to distinguish between race, income or education as the cause of the language gap until now, they said.