Young people's personal income, family socioeconomic status and health
Despite year-on-year increases in young people’s own income, through pocket money and other sources, there have been few studies of the social distribution of personal income, its relationship with consumer culture and implications for health.
Analyses of data gathered from adolescents in the 1990s who participated in the 11 to 16/16+ study found an inverse relationship between personal income and several measures of family socioeconomic status (SES), demonstrating a ‘material paradox’ that young people from ‘poorer’ backgrounds had more, not less, money in their pockets. Consistent with other studies, they were also more likely to have the latest consumer possessions, like TVs in their bedrooms, suggesting that young people from lower SES backgrounds were more exposed to and embedded in consumer culture.
Following on from this, an examination was made of the links between personal income and health behaviours, focussing specifically on smoking. This confirmed the well-documented finding that personal income is a strong predictor of smoking, particularly in early adolescence, but also found that its effect varied according to their social class of background. Among young people whose parents were in ‘non-manual’ occupations, the income/smoking relationship was particularly strong. By contrast, among those with parents in semi-skilled or unskilled occupations, there was little or no relationship. This finding was interpreted in terms of differences in tobacco availability and cost, lower SES youth being more likely to have parents and friends who smoke and the ability to source cheaper cigarettes from the illicit market, while their higher SES counterparts may be forced to obtain tobacco from legal retail outlets at a higher price. One implication of this is that raising the price of cigarettes via taxation might paradoxically increase, rather than reduce, health inequalities.