THURSDAY, Oct. 28 (HealthDay News) -- Improving mothers' literacy skills may boost the success of low-income children in schools, says a new study.

U.S. researchers concluded that a mother's reading skill when her children are young is the most critical factor influencing her children's future academic success, even more important than other factors such as family and neighborhood income.

For their study, the researchers examined data from 2,350 children, ages 3 to 17, and their families in 65 communities in Los Angeles County.

While a mother's literacy had the biggest impact on young children's academic success, neighborhood income was the most important factor for children ages 8 to 17. This fits with the idea that influences outside the home become more important as children grow older, said the researchers from the University of Michigan and the University of California, Los Angeles.

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, was recently published in the journal Demography.

"This analysis gives us a chance to isolate the different factors that affect children's achievement," study co-author Narayan Sastry, of the University of Michigan, said in an NIH news release. "Policy measures to encourage mixed-income neighborhoods, improve early childhood education, and build mothers' reading skills each could have positive effects on children's achievement scores."

NIH officials agreed that such measures could help overcome the disparity in academic achievement between poor and upper-income neighborhoods.

More information

The Nemours Foundation outlines how parents can help their children as they learn to read.