Behaviour of boys from poor homes is worse when they grow up with wealthier neighbours, suggests research. By contrast, poor boys in “hard-pressed” areas had the lowest rates of antisocial behaviour, data on 1,600 children in England and Wales suggests.
Is this a plea for more segregation? Don’t think so. But prof Candice Odgers of Duke University in the United States, followed the children in a longitudinal study from birth to the age of 12 and expected actually to find the opposite results:
The authors found that in economically mixed areas, poorer boys engaged in more antisocial behaviour – such as lying, cheating, swearing and fighting.
But disadvantaged boys living in areas where three-quarters of the population was poor had the lowest rates of such behaviour.
Poor boys’ behaviour was worse in middle-income neighbourhoods and worse still in the wealthiest neighbourhoods.
The findings held true for boys from the ages of five to 12 – but the researchers found no sign of a similar effect on girls.
Prof Odgers said “relative position hypothesis” suggests children evaluate their social rank and self-worth based on comparisons with those around them.
So being poor may be more distressing to a child surrounded by others who are better-off.