They are born equal, but even by age two or three massive discrepancies have emerged in the social and emotional development, cognition and learning of children, depending on whether they are from rich or poor households, according to Australian research out Thursday.

A new analysis by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) shows the gap increases further at four to five years of age, and is maintained thereafter. And boys have considerably worse outcomes than girls, it finds.

AIFS director Professor Alan Hayes—presenting the research at a welfare conference in Canberra on Thursday—suggested his analysis of the latest data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, which has tracked kids up to the age of nine, highlights the need for targeted "early intervention" programs to help poor households bridge the chasm.

"In the first few months after birth there is very little difference," Hayes told The Australian.

"Whether it's an enriched environment the child is in or not, they have pretty much the same social and developmental outcomes.

"But already in that first two to three years the differences quickly emerge when you compare the lowest income group to the highest. This gradient continues to increase rapidly in the years before school and, while it doesn't seem to grow wider in the early years of primary school, it is at least maintained."

Hayes said this meant that "kids at the lower end of the spectrum are really behind the eight-ball from even before school starts," adding, "It is like we have a two-speed childhood in this country."

He said the data showed worse outcomes for boys than girls, particularly in terms of school-readiness and anti-social behavior.

"Girls are perhaps a little more buffered because they tend to be more linguistically advanced and socially developed, and also more engaged with their mothers, while boys tend to be more vulnerable," he said.

Read more: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/education/poor-kids-the-losers-in-learning-stakes/story-fn59nlz9-1226204126566