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01-06-2012 | Empirical Research | Uitgave 6/2012

Journal of Youth and Adolescence 6/2012

Increasing the Complexity of Young Adolescents’ Beliefs About Poverty and Inequality: Results of an 8th Grade Social Studies Curriculum Intervention

Journal of Youth and Adolescence > Uitgave 6/2012
Rashmita S. Mistry, Christia Spears Brown, Kirby A. Chow, Geri S. Collins


Poverty and economic hardship remain a reality for many of America’s children. Although the causes of poverty are varied, Americans strongly endorse individual responsibility as a primary cause. Because beliefs about poverty originate in childhood and adolescence, intervention efforts targeting young people may be particularly effective in shifting attitudes about the poor and policies designed to help the disadvantaged. To test this proposition, the current study evaluated the efficacy of a 1-week 8th grade social studies curriculum focusing on poverty and inequality. Study participants were upper middle-class youth enrolled in multiple sections of a Social Studies course taught by a single teacher. Participants had little direct contact with marginalized groups such as poor and homeless individuals in their communities. Students (N = 66) completed a survey assessing their attitudes and beliefs about poverty and poor people prior to, and 1 week and 6 months post-instruction. Results indicated that the curriculum was partially effective in increasing the complexity of students’ beliefs about poverty. Students were more likely to emphasize fatalistic causes and less likely to list individualistic causes for poverty following instruction than before, but rarely emphasized structural causes for poverty and rated individual effort as the most influential factor in determining one’s success. Implications of the study findings for curriculum efforts targeting young adolescents’ reasoning about economic inequality and inequity and directions for future studies are discussed.

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