This paper reviews nine analyses, all published since 1998, and all of them involving in-depth interviews or groupwork with children aged between 5 and 17. The case studies cover issues including exclusion from activities and peer groups at school and in the community; perceptions of 'poor' and 'affluent' children; and aspirations for future careers and lives. This paper reviews some of the recent qualitative literature on children's perspectives on economic disadvantage. The idea of asking people who experience disadvantage about their own situations is still a relatively new one in the social sciences, and the idea of asking children about their own perceptions of economic and social disadvantage is even more recent. Nine analyses, all published since 1998, and all of them involving in- depth interviews or groupwork with children aged between 5 and 17, are examined in detail. Most of these studies develop frameworks based on the 'new sociology of childhood', which emphasises the social construction of childhood and children’s agency in the context of child-adult relations. The nine studies cover a number of issues related to economic disadvantage, including exclusion from activities and peer groups at school and in the community; perceptions of ‘poor’ and ‘affluent’ children; participation in organised activities outside of school hours; methods of coping with financial hardship; support for parents in coping and in seeking and keeping employment, and aspirations for future careers and lives.
The analysis is organised under two themes - social exclusion and agency. Both are important from a child’s perspective. The research examined here shows that what concerns children is not lack of resources per se, but exclusion from activities that other children appear to take for granted, and embarrassment and shame at not being able to participate on equal terms with other children. The research also shows the extent to which children’s agency matters, first for themselves, to make sense of their situation and to interpret it positively or otherwise; second, for their parents and families, to help them cope with financial and other pressures through engaging in domestic work and caring, not making demands on parents, and protecting them from further pressure where they are able; and third, for policy: initiatives to reduce children’s exclusion must take account of children’s own perspectives on their situation.
On the basis of the nine papers analysed, the review argues that economic disadvantage can lead to exclusion in a number of critical areas, including schooling, access to out of school activities, and interaction with peers. But the review also finds that children use their agency creatively to reduce the impact of economic adversity on them and their families. However, they can also turn it inwards, leading to them lowering their own aspirations, excluding themselves from a range of activities, or engaging in activities that attract social disapproval. The review concludes with a discussion of the ethical and practical challenges associated with conducting research with children, and with a summary of issues that still remain under-researched.