Children who come from wealthier families tend to feel like they have more control over their lives, according to new research published in the journal Society and Mental Health.
The new study adds to previous findings showing that children who feel more in control of their lives tend to enjoy greater academic, health, and even occupational outcomes. The findings also reveal how the kids who most need this psychological resource may be the least likely to experience it.
The study was conducted by Dara Shifrer, a sociology professor in Portland State University’s (PSU) College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Using data from 16,450 U.S. eighth graders surveyed for the National Education Longitudinal Study in 1988 and 1990, Shifrer investigated which measures of socioeconomic status — parents’ education, family income, race, and parents’ occupation — have the greatest impact on a child’s locus of control and why.
Locus of control defines the degree to which people feel control over their lives. People at one end of the scale — those with an external locus of control — believe they are powerless and credit their successes and failures to other people, luck, or fate. On the other end, people with internal control see their destiny as largely in their own hands.
The findings suggest that kids with higher socioeconomic status are more likely to have an internal locus of control, in large part because their parents discuss school more often with them, their homes have more books and other resources, they receive higher grades, they are more likely to attend a private school, their friends are more academically oriented, and they feel safer at school.
“We know income shapes the way people parent, shapes the peers that kids have, shapes the schools they attend,” she said. “It’s not just kids’ perception — their lives are a little bit more out of control when they’re poor.”
Shifrer said the study allows social scientists to have a better understanding of how family income influences child development. She notes that there are some limitations to her study, seeing as it uses data from the early 1990s.
However, this particular data is one of the few large national datasets that measure adolescents’ locus of control, according to Shifrer. She said that while it is unlikely that its measure of locus of control is outdated, she believes the disparities in internal control could be even more extreme in today’s society with its increasing inequality and shifts in parenting norms and social media use.
Source: Portland State University