Children From Wealthier Homes Feel More Control Over Their Lives, Study Finds

PORTLAND, Ore. — Wealth, we’re often told, is a mindset. A new study suggests that there may be a kernel of truth to this saying, after finding that children raised in affluent families feel they have more control over their lives.

The research shows how a “rich” attitude can be passed down through generations, shaping a child’s worldview well into adulthood.

Boys wearing suits
A new study suggests that there may be a kernel of truth to the belief that wealth is a mindset, after finding that children raised in affluent families feel they have more control over their lives.

Researchers at Portland State University in Oregon recently analyzed data on over 16,000 middle schoolers who participated in the National Education Longitudinal Study in the early ’90s, allowing them to conclude that growing up in a high-income household was positively correlated with possessing an internal “locus of control.” 

Locus of control is a commonly-used term in psychology to describe the extent to which an individual believes that they can influence outcomes in their life. An “internal” locus implies a sense of agency, while an “external” locus suggests a fatalistic outlook.

As an internal locus is associated with improved academic, occupational, and health outcomes, lead researcher Dana Shifrer took an interest in understanding how this type of worldview develops. Shifrer found that affluent upbringings provided a number of benefits, primarily in the form of resources, such as available and nurturing parents, ample study materials, better schooling, more academically-inclined friends, and a safer environment.

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“We know income shapes the way people parent, shapes the peers that kids have, shapes the schools they attend,” Shifrer says in a university release. “It’s not just kids’ perception — their lives are a little bit more out of control when they’re poor.”

While some may point out that the dataset used is nearly three decades old, the researchers don’t believe it to be a methodological flaw. Instead, they emphasize how with rising income inequality, along with concerning trends in parenting, the effects of socioeconomic status on one’s locus of control may be even further magnified.

The study’s findings were published March 1st in the journal Society and Mental Health.

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