Do poorer youth have fewer friends? The role of household and child economic resources in adolescent school-class friendships
Children and Youth Services Review, In Press, Accepted Manuscript. Published online before print August 21, 2015, doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2015.08.013
Poverty among children and adolescents attracts considerable research interest, and many are concerned with the potential consequences of poverty for children's well-being and development. Research is however lacking on the consequences of economic hardship for children's social relations. This article asks whether adolescents with a lack of economic resources have fewer school-class friends than others, something we would expect given the modern view of poverty as a lack of economic resources that has negative social consequences. We take a child-centred perspective in explicitly acknowledging the role of the child's own economic and material resources alongside the more traditional measurement of parental incomes, and we use sociometric (network) data to assess children's school-class friendships. We find that adolescents with the lowest family incomes and those who often miss out on activities due to a lack of economic resources receive on average fewer friendship nominations and are more likely to experience social isolation in the school class. Access to an own room is also of some importance for the number of friends. These results point towards the importance for adolescents' social relations of having the economic and material possibilities to participate in the social life and in activities undertaken by peers. The estimated effects of household income and of students' own economic situation are largely independent of each other, suggesting that the common practice of assessing child economic conditions through parental income gives an incomplete picture. We suggest that policies directly targeting children's activities and social participation may be a relatively direct and cost-effective way of reducing the impact of economic resources and greatly improve the everyday lives of many adolescents and promote their social inclusion.