Children who feel poorer more likely to have mental health problems, major study finds

Inequality also leads to bullying, researchers say

Kate Ng
Tuesday 15 November 2022 08:49 GMT
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Children who feel poorer than their peers are more likely to experience mental health issues and be victims of bullying than those who feel financially equal to the rest of their friends, a new study has found.

Psychologists at the University of Cambridge also found that young people who think they are poorer and those who believe they are richer were both more likely to bully other people.

The team analysed perceived economic inequality within groups of friends among 12,995 children in the UK aged 11.

While the majority of the children analysed saw themselves as economically equal to their friends, four per cent and eight per cent saw themselves as poorer or richer, respectively.

The young adolescents who believed they were poorer than their friends scored up to eight per cent lower for self-esteem.

They also scored 11 per cent lower in terms of wellbeing compared to those who saw themselves as equal to others.

Children who felt poorer were also more likely to have “internalising difficulties” such as anxiety, as well as behavioural problems like anger issues or hyperactivity.

In addition, this group was 17 per cent more likely to report being bullied or picked on compared to their peers who felt economically equal.

The study also revealed that feeling either richer or poorer resulted in children being between three to five per cent more likely to perpetrate bullying.

Study lead author Bianca Piera Pi-Sunyer, a Cambridge Gates Scholar and PhD candidate in the University’s Department of Psychology, said this might be due to “feeling different in any way at a time when belonging is important”.

This, in turn, “increases the risk of interpersonal difficulties such as bullying”.

Piera Pi-Sunyer added: “Adolescence is an age of transitions, when we use social comparisons to make self judgements and develop our sense of self.

“A sense of our economic position not just in wider society, but in our immediate environment, might be problematic for our sense of belonging. Belonging is particularly important for wellbeing and psychosocial functioning during adolescence.”

She said that the team’s research suggests that comparing wealth with others may contribute to “a sense of social and personal self worth when we are young”.

The study also examined the cognitive processes between how people view themselves.

Having a more negative view of oneself can lead to people paying more attention to factors that “reinforces a lack of self-worth”, which can have mental health implications.

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