The Effects of Relative Deprivation on Children

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Like everyone else, children compare themselves to the people around them and assess their own self-worth in accordance to the conclusions they draw from such evaluations. It seems logical then that those children who do not have as many commodities as their peers notice their economic deficiencies and are affected negatively because they feel they are deprived or inferior to their companions. This reasoning is the basis of the relative deprivation theory.

According to Nripesh Podder and Todd Sandler who wrote the academic article, “Relative Deprivation, Envy and Economic Inequality,” in the journal Kyklos, relative deprivation occurs when a person does not have and wants a commodity that another person has and believes it is feasible that he should have it (354). Past studies have found that relative deprivation does indeed have negative effects on people, including children. However, the problems associated with relative deprivation are slight in comparison to the tribulations an environment without it presents.

It is far better for children, particularly those who are underprivileged, to be raised in neighborhoods of heterogeneous incomes (where both rich and poor people reside) and where relative deprivation is high than to live in homogeneous income areas where the condition is at a minimum. Thus, the government should make it mandatory for every neighborhood to have both rich and poor families residing in them. Many people only know the harmful effects of relative deprivation and do not realize that it is also beneficial in some ways.

Such people only consider the literal meaning of the term and its negative connotations, but do not think about what the world would be like without it. For instance, the concept of relative deprivation strictly means that the amount of possessions or commodities one has in comparison to others influences his conceptions of himself and therefore negatively impacts his self-esteem and behavior. One may argue that this is especially true for children whose young, impressionable minds may not understand why they can’t have the latest video game or toy when their friends can.

It is not unreasonable to believe that comparative poverty will cause children to think of themselves as deficient and will promote feelings of low self-esteem. In fact, the relative deprivation theory, which is introduced in Ruth N. Lopez Turley’s article, “Is Relative Deprivation Beneficial? The Effects of Richer and Poorer Neighbors on Children’s Outcomes” in the November 2002 publication of Journal of Community Psychology, is backed by many psychologists.

Research shows that having less than others in one’s reference group leads to negative psychological and behavioral outcomes as well as detrimental effects on one’s physical health (Turley 671). Overall, it causes people to feel inadequate, which lead them to develop unhealthy social behavior and low-self esteem, which in turn destabilizes their emotional, physical, and moralistic well-being. Psychology experiments and public health studies have found that relative deprivation causes stress, depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, suicide, unhealthy eating habits, alcohol abuse, and unethical behavior (qtd. n Turley 672). Thus, it is proven that relative poverty does have negative influences on a person. However, for an underprivileged child, the consequence of growing up in a neighborhood where relative deprivation is not present is even worse.

Although relative deprivation is minimized, neighborhoods where all the residents living there share similar economic backgrounds are more harmful than beneficial to children. Mah-Jabeen Soobader and Felicia B. Leclere stated in their academic article, “Going Upstream: Social Inequality and Children’s Health” from the Critical Public Health journal that, “… he subsequent increases in economic segregation have reduced the life chances of poor children by impeding family mobility out of poverty” (219). The reduced quality and availability of such resources as health services, libraries, schools, and recreational facilities typically characteristic of neighborhoods where poor people live, is one reason why children are more unlikely to grow up to be successful in areas that are homogeneously poor. Another reason is that children living in such places lack the role models to inspire them to seek higher-level jobs and education.

Children often learn by example, so if the adults around them are illiterate or have such expensive habits as gambling problems, alcohol and drug addictions, or compulsive shopping, then their children may grow up to have the same characteristics and may end up leading lives of poverty themselves. Another factor that which often forces youths to live in poverty all their lives is the fact that children who reside in homogeneously poor communities receive second-rate educations.

In a study done by Jeanne Brooks-Gunn and her colleagues, it was found that the verbal ability scores of preschoolers in Canada were negatively associated with those youths who resided in neighborhoods with poor residents (1844). Thus, even at such an early age, verbal deficiency is already present in the poverty-stricken children because their quality of education is inferior. Since adequate verbal skills are essential to have if one hopes to get a good job or career, the likelihood that the youths will get out of poverty is already slim.

Also, it was found that “… economically segregated neighborhoods produce high-risk environments that play a crucial role in predicting negative outcomes for children’s health” (Leclere and Soobader 219). In other words, neighborhoods that have only poor residents negatively affect the health of the children that live there. The unavailability or proper medical facilities, health plans, and health insurance in homogeneously poor neighborhoods account for this fact.

Additionally, Brooks-Gunn’s study found that “Behavior problem scores were higher when children lived in neighborhoods that had fewer affluent residents” (1844). Thus, just as relative deprivation negatively influences people’s health, behavior, and cognitive abilities, homogeneous paucity in a neighborhood does the same. Since the children are only subjected to poverty, they do not strive very hard to get out of it because they don’t realize that they could live better lives. In their childhood, all they know is need, so they expect destitution to be part of their adulthood as well.

Consequently, ubiquitously poor areas are even more detrimental to children because it decreases the likeliness for the children to get out of poverty. On the other hand, living in an economically heterogeneous neighborhood where both rich and poor people live, promotes the betterment of children. In Turley’s article she notes that, “Many studies have found that neighbors with high incomes, with a college education, or with professional and managerial jobs have a beneficial impact on children and youth, even after controlling the characteristics of the child’s own family” (qtd. n Turley 672). In such environments with successful people residing in them, children are inspired by those people to achieve higher learning and top-notch jobs themselves. The resources available to the children in richer areas such as child care, and youth programs also contribute to the betterment of the children by providing them with stimulating and enriching activities that build their characters and intelligences. In fact, there is hard evidence that poor children benefit from living in communities with wealthy people.

In an experiment that moved poor families from dilapidated public housing to more affluent communities, it was found that the richer neighborhoods improved the children’s outcomes (qtd. in Turley 672). To make her study of relative deprivation more comprehensive, Ruth Lopez Turley even conducted her own experiment and collected data that refuted the relative deprivation theory. Her study proved that because there are people present who are relatively advantaged (richer than their peers) in environments where relative deprivation is high, the dispositions of the children in that area improved.

Turley tested youths from age groups ranging from 3-4, 5-9, and 10-12. She tested children who were either poor or wealthy in comparison to their neighbors and assessed them based on their test scores, self-esteem, and behavior. After conducting her experiment, Turley concluded that relative deprivation actually has a significantly positive effect on the underprivileged children, causing them to increase in self-esteem, earn better grades and test scores, and even improve in behavior.

The reliability of her findings is buttressed by the fact that a study done by Brooks-Gunn also concluded that, “… neighborhood affluence was positively associated with children’s verbal ability scores” (1855). Thus, children should be raised in communities that have families richer than their own even though such environments promote feelings of relative deprivation because it has been proven that youths can overcome such feelings and prosper in spite of them. Also, the children of relatively advantaged families are unaffected by the presence of poorer children in their communities.

In the conclusion of her study, Turley adamantly states that, “… relative advantage is not significantly associated with any of the children’s outcomes. In other words, the income gap between a child’s family income and his or her lower-income neighbors does not help or hurt that child’s test scores, self-esteem, or behavior” (680). Thus, having relatively deprived children live in affluent neighborhood would only have overall positive results, for the poor children will benefit and the rich ones would not be affected at all.

Hence, communities should be formed that have both underprivileged and wealthy families as residents. However, there should be some guidelines that regulate the ratio of poor and rich families that are allowed to reside in a neighborhood. In their article, Podder and Sandler note that “… in a society of a large number of people, if all except one are have-nots, the relative deprivation will be very nearly zero while its maximum will be reached when 50% of the population belong to the category of have-nots” (359).

Therefore, communities should have more affluent people than deprived people so that they will minimize as much relative deprivation as possible. For, even though the profits of having relative deprivation present in a neighborhood out-weighs the harm of it being there, the area would optimally benefit if relative deprivation was at a minimum. It follows then that only small numbers of impoverished families should be integrated into affluent neighborhoods. This way, the children of the neighborhood would benefit in two ways.

First, they would not be subjected to high levels of relative deprivation and so the negative influences associated with it will be at a minimum. Secondly, the children from poor families will be able to improve their situations in life by making use of the resources and positive role models the affluent neighborhood provides them with. So, by having a balance of affluent and needy people in a community, relative deprivation can be controlled and be used to everyone’s advantage. Thus, relative deprivation is both positive and negative, but its positive aspects out-weighs its negative ones.

Although some studies have shown that relative deprivation causes emotional and physical stress, others have stated that it can actually motivate the deprived to better themselves. So, although having homozygous neighborhoods where only people of similar incomes lived together would eliminate relative deprivation and its possible negative side-affects, it would also prevent poor people from moving up in the world because if only poor people lived in a certain area, the children of that neighborhood would not have the resources and role models they need to improve themselves.

Thus, not having relative deprivation in a society would be far worse than having it, so the government should ensure that a certain ratio of rich and poor people should reside in every neighborhood. People can overcome the negative aspects of relative deprivation. Studies have already shown that children are able to. Therefore, if children can do it, the rest of the population has the capability of doing the same.

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