The Consequences of Exposure to Violence during Early Childhood

We also show that exposure to violence has a strong relationship with a host of undesirable later outcomes, and that relationship tends to be the same regardless of race, household income, mother’s educational attainment, or family structure.

…Perhaps the most basic feature of anyone’s environment, but especially a child’s, is personal security. When exposed to violence, all other concerns take a back seat to ensuring personal security—whether in terms of economic development or personal development. …Elijah Anderson’s urban ethnography documented that the state’s provision of personal security can break down in many poor, segregated, African American neighborhoods, and he showed how this breakdown creates especially difficult environments for young males to navigate (Anderson, 1999).

…Regressions on the data show that black males are much more likely to carry a gun, attack someone, or belong to a gang at age 16 when they have been exposed to violence during early childhood (table 2). This difference changes very little when controlling for household income, mother’s educational attainment, and family structure. The association for white males is very similar, and for some risky behaviors is even stronger than for black young males.

…We can think of at least two obvious ways that exposure to violence could negatively affect a child’s development. First is the direct effect: The stress caused by exposure to violence has major negative consequences on children’s development through the physiological reaction our bodies have to such stress (See the discussion in chapter 1 of Tough, 2012).

Second is the indirect effect operating through expectations. One set of expectations pertains to children’s beliefs about how they will interact with other people and the type of society in which they live. Another set of expectations is defined by how children perceive their own futures. Consider that adults entering retirement can accurately forecast their survival probabilities (Hurd and McGarry 1995) and make choices reflecting those forecasts (Hurd, Smith, and Zissimopoulos, 2004). A young male might make very different decisions when facing a 1 in 20 chance of dying by age 30 rather than a 1 in 50 chance.

The Consequences of Exposure to Violence during Early Childhood



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