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‘When You Grow Up’ is ‘If You Grow Up’ For Some Children

Posted on March 18, 2013

Photo from Wikimedia used with Creative Commons license.

A new study finds that many children in impoverished neighborhoods do not expect themselves to live until they reach age thirty-five. Out of 20,103 youth surveyed, about fifteen percent thought they would not make it to thirty-five. The fifteen percent of youth with lower survival expectations were more likely to live in less affluent neighborhoods.

The study, conducted by sociologists Tara Warner and Raymond Swisher from University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Bowling Green State University,respectively, used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to examine factors that may undermine youths’ outlook on life. The researchers paid special attention to how an individual’s neighborhood effected their beliefs about their own life expectancy and found that “growing up in an underprivileged neighborhood and being exposed to violence were both highly linked to insecurity about future survival.”

The fact that youth with lower expectations of survival were more likely to be from a less affluent neighborhood is not surprising given the rates of violence in economically distressed areas. As researcher Swisher points out, “More recent research suggests that the most damaging aspect of living in a poor neighborhood may be exposure to violence.” Very real concerns about survival and violent victimization for parents and children in these neighborhoods can outweigh concerns about success in school and avoiding risky behavior.

Professor Ariel Kalil, a visiting lecturer from the University of Chicago, will speak on Thursday, March 21 about her findings on income and education-related skill gaps in child development and how parenting and home environments influence these gaps. Kalil’s research on how poverty affects children and families illustrates how living in an economically disadvantaged area can influence other sources of low survival expectations such as poor mental and physical health and being a member of a minority group.

Adding to this large and growing body of evidence that living in a disadvantaged community has long-term effects on children, especially when exposed to violence are Schubert Center faculty associates Dan Flannery and Mark Singer. Both Flannery and Singer have written extensively on the effects of violence exposure on kids. Their studies have suggested that violence exposure is context-specific, meaning violence in the home differs in its effects on children from violence in the community, and that exposure to more extreme forms of violence is most prevalent in low-income neighborhoods. This deadly violence in economically depressed communities is just another part of life for children like Hadiya Pendleton, a fifteen-year-old honor student and anti-gang advocate from the South Side of Chicago, who was shot and killed in her neighborhood after school in January. Youth like Hadiya know they might not make it to adulthood, but strive to overcome the many obstacles they face anyways, in the hopes that they do.

Page last modified: March 24, 2014