US researchers found brain regions responsible for learning, language and emotional development tended to be more complex in people whose parents were educated to a higher level or who worked in professional rather than manual jobs.

Brain scans from hundreds of young people show these effects are stable throughout childhood and adolescence, the National Institute of Mental Health researchers found.

This means targeting additional support in the pre-school years could help minimise inequalities it causes in a host of life outcomes, including mental health and academic achievement, the researchers added.

“Early brain development occurs within the context of each child’s experiences and environment, which both vary significantly as a function of socioeconomic status,” said lead author Cassidy McDermott and colleagues.