Common sense would dictate that as a community realizes better economic conditions, violence would diminish. However, according to a new study conducted by Tama Leventhal of Tufts University and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn of Columbia, the opposite is true. The researchers used data from a longitudinal study that included participants from 80 separate neighborhoods, the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods (PHDCN), to gauge how decreasing, increasing or stable poverty affected the behavior and mental health of adolescents. The study contained data related to delinquency, criminal behavior, including property damage and violent acts, internalizing of problems, and other mental health markers over six years. “Because neighborhood poverty can increase as well as decrease, we explore both types of changes and their associations with youth’s development,” said the researchers.
The participants were aged 6, 9, 12 and 15 at the first wave of the study. The researchers evaluated data from children in neighborhoods that experienced increasing poverty, decreasing poverty and stable economic conditions. Their findings revealed that boys internalized their problems more when the poverty levels decreased. Additionally, boys in these same communities increased their level of violent behavior as poverty decreased. “Boys in neighborhoods that got less poor increased in their violent behavior at a faster rate than boys in stable neighborhoods,” added the researchers.
The researchers summarized their surprising results. “Counter to expectations, however, decreasing poverty was associated with youth displaying more problem behaviors compared with youth in stable neighborhoods for two of the four outcomes in our multilevel analyses: maternal-reported internalizing problems and violent behavior.” Additionally, they discovered that even though girls displayed increases in negative behaviors and internalizing, they did so far less than the boys. They added that these findings could be counter-productive for the mobility programs designed to improve the fiscal solvency of urban communities. They said, “From a policy standpoint, these results indicate that successful efforts to reduce neighborhood poverty and ultimately promote children and adolescents’ well-being may be hard won.”
Leventhal, T., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2011, September 12). Changes in Neighborhood Poverty From 1990 to 2000 and Youth’s Problem Behaviors. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025314
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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