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7 September 2007 PR 07/115

Research reveals children’s perceptions of ‘chavs’ and ‘posh’

A report by Loughborough University’s Centre for Research in Social Policy (CRSP), published today (7 September), has revealed key similarities and some stark differences between the way children from different socio-economic backgrounds live their lives.

The study, entitled ‘A Child’s Eye View of Social Difference’, which was funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation with support from Save the Children UK, also examined how the children perceived themselves and each other.

In total 42 children, aged between 8 and 13, took part in the study. The first group, of nineteen, were from a disadvantaged housing estate, while the second group of 23 were recruited to the study from a fee-paying independent school.

The research revealed some key similarities between the children.

All the children from both backgrounds identified the same four areas to be important in their lives – education, their favourite things, free time, and their family and friends. However different groups included additional items in their list of important things – for example, the girls from the housing estate identified health and safety as an important issue.

Also, despite differences in the number and size of the material possessions owned by the two groups of children, both placed value on similar things, such as toys, games and pets.

“None of the children identified themselves as poor or rich – they considered themselves to be ‘average’,” explains Liz Sutton, a Research Associate in CRSP and lead researcher on the study.

“The children from both groups also wanted to avoid standing out from others. Those from the estate tended to ‘talk up’ what they owned, while the private school children ‘talked down’ their material possessions and, in particular, played down their relative economic status. All of which shows how important it is to children to fit in with their own peer group,” says Liz.

When asked about their concept of ‘rich’ and ‘poor’, both groups of children believed that the terms referred to others. People living in poverty were deemed to be those in the Third World or, in the UK, those who are homeless and hungry. Being rich was associated with having larger and more material possessions, for example lots of cars and very large houses, with enormous gardens and swimming pools.

The terms ‘chav’ and ‘poshness’ drew more interesting responses from the different groups, however.

The estate children equated being rich with ‘poshness’; being rich and posh meant having few friends, being snobby, spoilt, mean and greedy. They also believed that ‘posh’ children would have little fun in their lives, while they were able to have lots.

“This perception came primarily because the estate children believed richer children were required to work hard. They also thought they’d have few friends because they would ‘show off’ with their money and have to stay in and do homework,” says Liz.

By contrast, the private school children often perceived children who lived on council estates to be ‘chavs’. They considered them to be badly behaved and had parents that did not care about them. They also thought poorer children attended what they thought to be ‘rougher’ schools.

The research also revealed some stark differences between the way children from each group lived their lives. For instance the estate children’s free time was dominated by street play and socialising with friends in open public spaces within their estate.

Despite this play being unsupervised, it was governed by rules set by their parents, who, for example, warned of which areas of the estate to avoid and set times for their children’s return. This gave the estate children the responsibility to make decisions for themselves and enabled them to be ‘streetwise’.

“Street play was really valued by the estate children, who had less space to play at home and limited opportunities to access more organised activities,” comments Liz. “The children expressed a real sense of anger at the loss of some of their open spaces to local developers, which made it harder for the children to congregate and play with their friends in the relative safety of being near home and off roads.”

By contrast, the private school children led more chaperoned lives, spending more of their free time inside at home or involved in organised activities, many of which often emphasised learning, such as riding, tennis and gymnastics.

Adults often accompanied the children on these activities. The parents worried about their children being attacked or mugged when out – fears which seemed to be heightened by media reporting of anti-social behaviour, gun crime and ‘hoodies’ picking on or mugging other children.

The parents’ fears also appeared to have been transferred to their children, who said they were wary of other children when they were out. However, they also thought their parents were ‘babying’ them, allowing then less freedom than they would sometimes have liked.

– Ends –

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Notes for editors:

Additional information on the estate children
Most of the children were living in low-income households and had experience of material hardship. Most had lived on or around the estate since birth, and many had large, local extended families who, for example, provided childcare and helped their families financially. Most of the children lived in households with more than one sibling and many shared bedrooms. The children attended a range of local primary and secondary state schools. Some children reported that they ‘wagged’ or played truant from school, and a few of the older boys in particular talked of getting into trouble at school, at home and with their neighbours. Several children had special educational needs and a few had parents with long-term disabilities.

Additional information on the private school children
The private school children were a mixture of day students and boarders. Day students mainly lived in the surrounding villages and some had previously attended state schools. Several children’s families owned more than one home in the UK. Many had moved house several times during their lives, often having lived in different locations in the UK and abroad. Few of the children saw each other outside school. Nearly all the children were driven to and collected from school by their parents. They tended to have long school days, staying at school until up to 6.15pm doing ‘prep’ or homework. They also took part in a wide range of after-school clubs and activities, and a few of the children (mainly girls) kept ponies.

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Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for excellence in teaching and research, strong links with industry and unrivalled sporting achievement.

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In the 2006 National Student Survey, the University gained a top five place, with nine out of Loughborough’s 23 departments topping their subject tables. Loughborough is also ranked in the top15 of UK universities in national league tables and was named winner of the 2006 THES award for the UK’s Best Student Experience. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, the University has been awarded five Queen's Anniversary Prizes – an achievement bettered by no other university.

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