Researchers in the UK have found that male children from poor homes growing up in better-off areas are more likely to engage in antisocial behavior. But disadvantaged boys living in areas where three-quarters of the population was poor had the lowest rates of such behaviour. The findings are grim, since they suggest mixed income communities could bear some unforeseen negative consequences, which might outweigh the benefits.

poor boys antisocial

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Data was used from the  Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study, run by King’s College London, which tracked the development of a group of 2,232 children born in England and Wales in 1994 and 1995. The children’s behavior was assessed at ages of five, seven, 10 and 12 using teacher reports and interviews with parents.

Boys from disadvantaged homes living in economically mixed areas engaged in more antisocial behavior, like lying, cheating, swearing and fighting. This was true for middle-income neighbourhoods and worse still in the wealthiest neighbourhoods. When the boys grew up in a predominantly poor environment, they had the lowest rates of such behaviour. Basically, you never truly know how poor you are unless most people around you have more than you do.  Interestingly enough, the same can’t be said about girls. While the findings were found to be genuine for boys ages of five to 12, no such effect was recorded for girls.

The negative effect of growing up alongside more affluent neighbors on low-income boys’ antisocial behavior held across childhood and after controlling for key neighborhood and family-level factors.

“These findings are troubling,” said psychologist Prof Candice Odgers of Duke University in the United States.

“Our hope was that we would find economically mixed communities that allowed low-income children access to greater resources and the opportunity to thrive.

“Instead we found what appears to be the opposite effect.”

According to Prof Odgers, the findings mirror the “relative position hypothesis”” where children evaluate their social rank and self-wroth through comparisons with those around them. Growing up in the shadow of their peers who have  more resources, social capital and perceived opportunities could make some children feel powerless and frustrated. These feelings are then reflected outside by engaging in antisocial behaviour.

Prof Odgers said the increasing divide between rich and poor made the findings particularly troubling. The findings appeared in a paper published in the  Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry

“We are not saying that economically mixed communities are universally harmful, however additional care may need to be taken to ensure these communities achieve their intended outcomes for children.”