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Regular version of the site

A Disadvantaged Start

How childhood poverty affects self-confidence in adulthood

GAME OF CRAPS. CINCINNATI, OHIO. AUG. 1908 / © WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

In 2017, 30% of Russian families with children under three and almost 20% of families with children under 18 were living below the poverty line. Incidentally, financial hardships experienced during childhood do not leave one unaffected. A study by an HSE psychologist shows that poverty experienced in childhood reduces self-esteem and self-assurance even in adults who later achieve financial success.

The duration of poverty plays a role and affects people differently. For instance, situational (short-term) poverty caused, for example, by salary delays does not influence a person’s social status, while long-term poverty (lasting four years or more) significantly alters one’s way of life and social circle, thereby affecting one’s value system. Some previous independent research demonstrates that poverty experienced in childhood and adolescence affects the identity and behavior of adults. However, due to fragmentary approaches to collecting survey samples and ways of measuring poverty (based on personal income, subjective evaluation, or deprivation level), the complex effects of childhood poverty on an individual has never been the subject of an in-depth scientific analysis. Maria Efremova from the HSE Centre For Sociocultural Research and Olga Poluektova, a post-graduate student of the Bremen International Graduate School of Social Science (BIGSSS), decided to fill this gap.

In the study, the researchers measured respondents’ levels of motivation, subjective psychological well-being, and personal values against financial wellness in adulthood and childhood. The sample included a total of 350 people. Their current financial status was estimated based on their latest month’s income and their level of deprivation, i.e., the level of their ability to satisfy basic needs. Respondents whose income was lower than the official minimum wage (or 7,500 rubles at the time of the study) were considered poor. Childhood socioeconomic status (SES) was evaluated based on the respondents’ memories. For instance, they had to agree or disagree with statements such as ‘My family usually had enough money when I was a child.’

One psychological factors measured was trust: basic reliance is set up in childhood and affects the way people interact with the world throughout their lives. Apart from trust, the researchers also assessed personal values that drive an individual’s behavior. These values include openness to change (i.e., an individual’s acceptance of new things); self-assertiveness (the extent to which social status and authority are important to an individual); self-sacrifice (how willing the individual is to help others and care for the environment); and preservation (whether the individual supports traditions and how much he or she cares for personal security).

The psychologists also analyzed the extent to which poverty in childhood and adulthood had affected the respondents’ self-esteem, their life satisfaction, and self-efficacy, i.e., belief in their own success in solving problems. Formed in childhood, these feelings are slow to change throughout people’s life.

The researchers’ findings show that adult life satisfaction depends on people’s financial income irrespective of whether their families were affluent or poor in their childhood. The more money a person has, the more he or she is satisfied with life. However, the average life satisfaction of the respondents whose childhoods were marked by poverty appeared to be lower than that of people who were raised in well-to-do families.

Financial problems also lead to a lack of trust in a person, regardless of age. Having experienced poverty as a child, adults suffer from a lower level of trust even if they are currently live comfortably.

The psychologists discovered that there was no connection between low-income respondents’ financial status and their willingness to help others, care for the environment, or embrace new things. This finding seems to prove Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchical Theory of human needs. According to the theory, people will hardly focus on self-actualization unless their basic deficit needs are satisfied.

The self-esteem of individuals who experienced poverty at any period of their lives is lower than that of well-to-do people. One of the reasons for it might include social stigmatization of low-income people.

As for self-efficacy, respondents who experienced poverty as a child displayed lower levels than those who did not suffer financial hardship in their childhood. This may be explained by the fact that people need to experience success to build on their self-confidence. Children from poor families are unlikely to have as much experience with success as those from affluent families.
IQ

Authors:
Maria Efremova, Senior Research Fellow, HSE Centre For Sociocultural Research ВШЭ
Olga Poluektova, a graduate student of the Bremen International Graduate School of Social Science (BIGSSS), Jacobs University, Germany
Author: Alena Tarasova, January 17