(WTNH) — Rich, poor, middle class. Parents often believe it’s their responsibility to shield their children from economic differences and social class. But new research shows children as young as 5-years-old are not economically blind. In fact, by the time they reach prekindergarten, kids know the difference.
This group of primary school kids already knows what money can buy.
One said, “I think of middle class as my family because my family has enough money to buy the stuff we need.”
Another student, Charles, said, “I feel my family is rich because they have two wonderful children, me and my brother.”
UCLA developmental psychologist Rasmita Mistry, PhD, studies social stratification and the impact it has on children.
“So thinking about education and occupations and income and wealth. We think if we don’t draw attention to it, then maybe kids won’t think that it’s important. In fact, what we know is it’s the opposite,” Mistry said.
Mistry’s team showed 5 to 8-year-old children four depictions of local neighborhoods and asked them, which looked most like theirs.
Most of the kids chose the middle-class photo. More than a third were also able to point to concrete reasons, such as the appearance of a house. She also asked them if it was fair that some people are rich and some are poor.
Paulo said, “Well it’s not fair, but not a lot of things are fair.”
Parents should continue the conversation at home using these techniques:
- Don’t ignore your child’s observations. Use their curiosity to start a conversation.
- Watch your words; Instead of saying “a homeless person,” use phrases like “a person who is homeless.” this reinforces that poverty does not define a person but describes their current circumstances.
- Encourage concern, compassion, and action.
Mistry said, “I think our task as adults is to help them make meaning of this.”
Mistry is working with teachers to develop curriculum to help children understand why there are differences. Mistry believes that engaging with children in conversations about meaningful similarities and differences between wealth and poverty is an important step to reducing stereotypical beliefs and nurturing a sense of civic identity. When children view poverty and inequality as unfair, they will work to correct the disparities.