It’s no secret that the world is facing a growing wealth divide, and a recent report by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) highlights its impact on child development. From the US to South Africa to China, the top 10% of the population owns twice as much as the bottom 90%.
This divide is also leading to increased resource-based segregation, where families tend to live in class-based “bubbles” where the rich interact with the rich and the poor interact with the poor. These bubbles can make it difficult to see the reality of the wealth divide and can even reduce the willingness to share resources with others.
A recent study sought to investigate the relationship between an individual’s resource level, their perception of resources, and their willingness to share. The study involved two studies, one to examine the correlation between resource level and the perception of resources, and the second to determine whether such perception affects sharing behaviour. The findings were published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.
The first study consisted of 230 adults (59.1% female, 72.6% White) and 109 young children (4–6 years old, 56% female, 33% White) who were surveyed. The results revealed a positive correlation between resource level and the belief that others have abundant resources.
The second study, which involved 495 adults (52.5% female, 69.1% White) and 154 young children (4-5 years old, 52.6% female, 36.4% White), aimed to determine whether belief in others having abundant resources affects sharing behaviour. The results indicated that participants who were randomly assigned to believe others have abundant resources were less likely to share their own resources.
The findings of this study have important implications for reducing economic inequality. It highlights the influence of perception on sharing behaviour and suggests the need for increased awareness of this relationship in efforts to reduce wealth disparities.
The research indicates one way to motivate individuals to combat inequality through resource sharing is by increasing their awareness of the issue. One potential method for doing so is through local exposure.
Previous studies found that when individuals were exposed to local inequalities, they were more likely to support the redistribution of wealth. Although there is limited research on the psychological effects of exposing children to scarcity and inequality, the trend of rising resource-based segregation suggests that opportunities for children to interact with individuals of varying resource levels are becoming increasingly rare. But when children do have opportunities for such interactions, they may become more aware of economic inequality and may be more likely to take action to address it.
To ensure the most beneficial outcomes, these interactions should be accompanied by developmentally appropriate conversations about wealth, resources, and inequality. Although awareness of a problem is not necessarily sufficient to solve it, it is necessary, and our research suggests that it can have a positive impact even during early development.