In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Young People and Disadvantaged Environments in Affluent Countries

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Classic Works
  • Journals
  • Ecological Models
  • Influence of Family Disadvantage on Young People’s Social Outcomes
  • Influence of Family Disadvantage on Parenting Practices
  • Intersectional Disadvantage
  • Influence of Neighborhood Disadvantage on Young People’s Social Outcomes
  • Heterogeneity of Neighborhood Effects
  • Influence of School Disadvantage on Young People’s Social Outcomes
  • Influence of Rural Poverty on Young People

Childhood Studies Young People and Disadvantaged Environments in Affluent Countries
Kirsten Visser
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0214


Many social scientists over the last decades have focused on the question of the impacts of poverty on people. Studies in this field primarily examine the effects of social, cultural, and economic resources and structural factors on the development, social outcomes, and well-being of an individual. In the last decades, scholarly interest has increasingly focused on poverty among children and adolescents (hereafter “young people”). Young people are seen as a nation’s future, which forms a reason for societal concern with their well-being and developmental outcomes. In addition, scholars increasingly acknowledge that poverty is multidimensional and heterogenous: the effects of poverty differ according to personal characteristics such as age, gender, race/ethnicity, or disability, but they are also exemplified by the disadvantaged environments in which young people find themselves, such as dysfunctional families, deprived neighborhoods, and low-quality schools. This article gives an overview of the most important works in the field of the effects of poverty and disadvantaged environments on young people (0–18 years of age). As the nature of poverty differs significantly between affluent countries and low-income developing countries, this review is focused on studies in the United States, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Given the fact that disadvantage, and the different effects thereof on young people, can be approached from the perspectives offered by different social sciences, publications from geography, sociology, social work, anthropology, economics, and (environmental) psychology are included in this review. This article departs from the idea of ecological models, assuming that poverty impacts children within their various contexts such as the home, school, and neighborhood. After presenting general works on poverty among young people, attention is given to the impacts of disadvantages in home, neighborhood, and school environments. Most studies that are discussed in this review deal with disadvantage in urban areas, reflecting the focus of the overall literature in affluent countries. However, poverty and disadvantage also differ between urban and rural environments. Therefore, the article ends with an overview of literature on poverty among young people in rural areas.

General Overviews

Many scientific studies examine the relationship between poverty and the development and well-being of young people. A good starting point is Vleminckx and Smeeding 2001, a volume that provides a clear overview of the relationships between child poverty and well-being in different countries in Europe as well as the United States and Australia and suggests several policy interventions. This book also clearly illustrates the contextual differences in child poverty and its impacts: the chapter by Kamerman and Kahn 2001, for example, discusses the different child and family policies in Scandinavian countries, eastern European countries, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In addition, Bradbury, et al. 2001 provides an interesting overview of child poverty in different industrialized countries. The added value of this book is that the authors adopt a dynamic approach toward poverty, focusing on children’s movements into and out of poverty, in addition to examining their poverty at one point in time. In the European context, a specific group that encounters poverty are immigrant children: Bhalla and McCormick 2009 pays attention to this group in adopting an approach based on child rights and social justice. For researchers who are interested in poverty and social inequality in the United States Duncan and Brooks-Gunn 1999 and Neckerman 2004 provide interesting overviews of how living in poverty has been accompanied by less opportunities in social domains such as the educational and job market and family and neighborhood life and health. Putnam 2016 also describes how growing inequalities in American society constitute a concern in showing that young people growing up in poverty have significantly less opportunities than those growing up in wealthier families. Young people, however, are not passive “victims” of societal or neighborhood structures. DeLuca, et al. 2016 illuminates the effects of neighborhoods on disadvantaged families, but also pays attention to the agency of the young people themselves and how some youth can escape poverty. As such, the authors challenge the traditional ideas of social reproduction in deprived neighborhoods. Similarly, Fernandez, et al. 2015 treats child poverty in different parts of the world in discussing poverty from a human rights–based perspective and pays attention specifically to children’s agency.

  • Bhalla, A. S., and Peter McCormick. Poverty among Immigrant Children in Europe. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230233973

    This book presents an analysis of empirical data on poverty among immigrant children in Switzerland and France and, as such, contributes to the debate on European migration policy. It presents an alternative approach toward child poverty based on child rights and social justice.

  • Bradbury, Bruce, Stephen P. Jenkins, and John Micklewright, eds. The Dynamics of Child Poverty in Industrialised Countries. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

    A book that provides a clear overview of child poverty in different industrialized countries. The authors adopt a dynamic approach toward poverty, paying attention to children’s movements into and out of poverty. Chapters 2 and 3 compare child poverty in different industrialized nations, followed by more in-depth country studies in the remaining chapters.

  • DeLuca, Stefanie, Susan Clampet-Lundquist, and Kathryn Edin. Coming of Age in the Other America. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2016.

    This book focuses on the experiences of parents and children living in the deprived inner city of Philadelphia. It shows that neighborhoods have a profound impact on the development of children, and it also illustrates that despite overwhelming odds, some disadvantaged urban youth do achieve upward mobility.

  • Duncan, Greg J., and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, eds. Consequences of Growing Up Poor. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1999.

    Multidisciplinary book that focuses on the question how low income puts children in the United States at risk intellectually, emotionally, and physically.

  • Fernandez, Elizabeth, Anat Zeira, Tiziano Vecchiato, and Cinzia Canali, eds. Theoretical and Empirical Insights into Child and Family Poverty. Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2015.

    Interesting book that provides insight into child poverty from a child-centered or child rights perspective and focuses on both rich and poor countries. The authors primarily focus on children’s own perspectives and agency in the context of poverty.

  • Kamerman Sheila B., and Alfred J. Kahn. “Child and family policies in an era of social policy retrenchment and restructuring child well-being”, In Child Poverty and Child Policy in Modern Nations: What Do We Know? Edited by Koen Vleminckx and Timothy M. Smeeding, 501–526, Bristol, UK: Policy Press, 2001.

    Chapter that gives an interesting overview of contextual differences in child poverty by discussing child and family policies in different affluent countries.

  • Neckerman, Kathryn M. Social Inequality. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2004.

    Examines social and economic inequality in the United States in a variety of areas, including schools, jobs, health, and political participation.

  • Putnam, Robert D. Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016.

    This book describes a growing opportunity gap for the current generation of young people in the United States, which has a profound impact on the social mobility of today’s youth. The author questions whether the idea of the American Dream still holds true for everybody.

  • Vleminckx, Koen, and Timothy M. Smeeding, eds. Child Well-Being, Child Poverty and Child Policy in Modern Nations: What Do We Know? Bristol, UK: Policy Press, 2001.

    This book shows that child poverty has effects on their education, future employment, and life chances more generally. In the final part of the book, the authors discuss several policies that can reduce child poverty.

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