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Poorer boys fare worse growing up in rich areas

Boys from low-income families living near better-off neighbours display more antisocial behaviour than those growing up in poor neighbourhoods says research from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) published today in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.  

The work was carried out in Britain and included 1,600 children from the Environmental Risk (E-Risk) Longitudinal Twin Study, which studies children from birth to age 12. Researchers conducted intensive home assessments, surveyed teachers and neighbours, and collected additional data including census information and parent reports.  They also used Google Street View images to gauge neighbourhood conditions within a half-mile radius of each child’s home that yielded data about housing conditions, parks, presence of graffiti and more. Findings indicated that in economically mixed settings, poor boys engaged in more antisocial behaviour, including lying, cheating and swearing, and aggressive behaviour such as fighting. This was consistent from age five to 12, but for poor girls, growing up with more affluent neighbours had no discernible effect on behaviour. 

Professor Terrie Moffitt, of the Department of Social Genetic & Developmental Psychiatry, IoPPN, said:  “My neighbourhood in London is a good example of where well-to-do families and low-income families live side by side. It would be wonderful if the children benefitted from the diversity of friendships, and from better-resourced schools, GP surgeries, and park facilities. In our research we tested this, but found that poor boys living near better-off neighbours in Britain had got involved in more troubled behaviours and illegal activities, even more than poor boys living in a deprived area where every family was low-income.”

Among the poor boys, those living in neighbourhoods classified as “hard-pressed,” where 75 percent or more of the local area was low-income, had the lowest rates of antisocial behaviour. Boys’ behaviour was worse in middle-income neighbourhoods, and worse still in the wealthiest neighbourhoods studied.

“Our hope was that we would find economically mixed communities that allowed low-income children access to greater resources and the opportunity to thrive,” said Dr Candice Odgers, from Duke University. “Instead, we found what appears to be the opposite effect. These findings are troubling given the growing divide between rich and poor.  In future studies, we plan to look at mixed-income neighbourhoods’ effects in other spheres, such as educational achievement.”

Professor Moffitt continues: “This study does not suggest that mixed-income neighbourhoods are a bad thing, it does not mean that rich and poor should be made to live apart. But it does remind us of the need to check our hopeful assumptions against objective data. Poor children in mixed-income schools may need more of our help to fit in and feel they belong. 

“We were surprised at first. But the finding could make sense if poor boys feel the sting of comparing themselves to better-off boys at school, which generates a feeling of alienation and not belonging. And, it could mean that boys are very enterprising, they find more easy opportunities for theft or vandalism when better-off neighbours are very close by. This has been found in the city of Chicago.  Policing tends to be lighter in well-off areas too, so it can be easier for boys to get away with offending there.”

The research drew upon data from the Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study, which tracks the development of a group of 2,232 British children born in 1994 and 1995, and which is funded by the Medical Research Council. Additional support was provided by the Economic and Social Research Council grant RES-177-25-0013, NICHD grant HD061298 and by funds from the Jacobs Foundation, the British Academy and the Nuffield Foundation. Further support was provided by the William T. Grant Foundation, the U.S. National Science Foundation and by Google.

Online video: Outlines the research, shows the graphical figures and shows the Google Street View images that were used to make systematic social observations. It was put together by Duke University and you can view it by following this link.

Paper reference: Odgers, C. L. et al. ‘Living alongside more affluent neighbors predicts greater involvement in antisocial behavior among low-income boys’ published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry DOI: 10.1111/jcpp.12380 

For further information please contact Louise Pratt, Public Relations and Communications Manager, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King's College London, UK. T) +44 (0) 20 7848 5378 /+44 (0) 7850 919020 E)