Children learn lack of ambition as inequality triples in 30 years

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SUCCESSIVE generations of children are learning to be poor. New research has revealed that children growing up in low-income families learn from an early age to limit their expectations of what their parents can afford, leading them to reduce their hopes and aspirations for the future.

The findings show that children who come from low income families or from lone parent families are more likely to want to do a job that requires fewer qualifications and training, are less likely to ask for expensive birthday presents, and are less likely to have a part-time job than other children.

Two reports looking at children's experiences of how poverty affects their future are published today by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, an independent social research charity.

"As children learn about their family's financial situation, so they form views of where they stand in relation to other families," said Sue Middleton, co-author of one the studies who works at the Centre for Social Research at Loughborough University.

"Our research suggests that children from low-income families are learning to expect and accept less from an early age and to find ways of covering up their disappointment.

"There is a real sense in which they are learning to be poor."

The findings from this first study showed that children from families living on income support were more than three times as likely to want to do a job that required fewer qualifications - such as a receptionist, sales assistant or security job - than other children.

Only one in six aspired to a professional job such as teaching, engineering or the law, compared with a third overall.

The study was based on interviews with more than 400 children.

Two-thirds living with a lone parent or in families claiming income support said they were frequently told that their family could not afford what they wanted compared with less than half of other children. They said they knew from a young age not to ask for things they wanted. Four out of ten children in these families were worried they did not have enough money to live on.

Children living in poverty were also less likely to have a part-time job than other children, and those who did were likely to work for longer hours and for lower rates of pay than other children.

A second study, by researchers at the Centre for Economic Performance, part of the London School of Economics found that the number of children living in poverty has increased dramatically in the past 30 years.

As many as one in three children, 4.3 million, are living in households with less than half the average income, compared with one in ten in 1968.

The findings show that the increase in inequality has a direct impact on the wellbeing of children as the spending by the poorest fifth of the population on children's clothing, fresh fruit, shoes and toys is no higher in real terms than it was 30 years ago.

The researchers also found poverty continued through the generations.

Children born in 1958 who had socially disadvantaged backgrounds were more likely to have lower earnings and had a higher risk of unemployment at the age of 33 compared with other children.

They are also more likely than other parents to have children who were performing poorly at school.

"Our study shows how the economic position of families strongly affects the present and future welfare of children," said Stephen Machin, co-author of the report.

"It suggest that today's high level of child poverty is likely to have a continuing negative effect as the present generation of children in low-income families grows up."