Children who feel poorer than their friends are more likely to have mental health problems


CAMBRIDGE, UK — Young people who try to keep up with wealthier friends are more likely to have poorer mental health than those who feel economically equal, a new study reveals.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge say feeling poorer can lead to lower self-esteem, anxiety and behavioral issues such as anger or hyperactivity issues. Those who felt equal in wealth had much higher self-esteem and behaved better socially, with those who felt poorer or richer than their friends being more likely to bully others.

The researchers link their findings to a difficulty in feeling a sense of belonging when they feel economically inadequate.

“Adolescence is an age of transitions, when we use social comparisons to judge ourselves and develop our sense of self,” says study lead author Blanca Piera Pi-Sunyer, a Cambridge Gates scholar and PhD student at university psychology department. in a Press release.

“A sense of our economic position not only in society at large, but in our immediate environment, could be problematic for our sense of belonging,” adds Piera Pi-Sunyer. “Belonging is particularly important for well-being and psychosocial functioning during adolescence.”

“It may be that feeling different in any way at a time when belonging is important increases the risk of interpersonal difficulties such as intimidation“, continues the researcher. “Our research suggests that wealth comparisons with those around us may contribute to a sense of social and personal self-esteem when we are young.”

It is very common for young people to compare themselves to their friends in many ways. Along with financial insecurities, the teenage years can be a constant stream of anxiety about popularity, attractiveness, and more.

Disadvantaged children are more likely to be bullied

Researchers analyzed perceived economic inequality among friend groups of 12,995 11-year-olds in the UK. They interviewed children born between 2000 and 2002 and collected data on their family income.

The self-esteem of those who thought they were poorer than their friends was six to eight percent lower than those who felt equal. They also achieved an 11% lower level of well-being than those who considered themselves economically equal to their friends.

Children who felt poor in their friend groups were 17% more likely to report being bullied than those who felt they were in the same financial situation as their friends. On the other hand, those who felt richer or poorer than their friends were three to five percent more likely to bully others.

By the time participants turned 14, bullying levels dropped, but those who felt poorer were still eight percent more likely to be bullied than those who felt economically similar. to their friends.

Overall, the majority of children felt as rich as their friends, but 4% thought they were poorer, while 8% thought they were richer. Of all the 11-year-olds in the study, 16% said they didn’t know how they compared to their friends.

“Many studies suggest that objectively, young people from disadvantaged backgrounds have more mental health difficulties. Our results show that the subjective experience of disadvantage is also relevant,” says Piera Pi-Sunyer.

“You don’t have to be rich or poor to feel richer or poorer than your friends, and we can see this affecting young teens’ mental health.”

The study is published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

South West News Service editor Alice Clifford contributed to this report.

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