A sad teenage girl sitting down, looking at three friends
Photo: LightField/Mostphotos


“In my research I find an association between children's economic resources and social relationships in the school class. I find the greatest risk of having poorer social relationships for children who often miss out on activities because they cannot afford to participate, they run a substantially higher risk of not having a friend in the school class and of being bullied”, said Simon Hjalmarsson, recently appointed PhD of sociology at the Swedish Institute for Social Research (SOFI) and the Department of Sociology at Stockholm University.

In the dissertation, Simon Hjalmarsson used a school survey with a representative sample of Swedish eighth-graders to study how economic resources are related to the social relationships in the school class. It is both the children's own access to economic resources, such as the ability to quickly get access to 300 SEK (around €30) or how often you miss out on an activity because you cannot afford to participate, and the total income of the household that has been measured. Household income has been measured through register data and is compared with other families with children in the same school. Social relationships have been measured by the number of friends in the school class, the risk of not having any friends in the class, the risk of being bullied, and other classmates’ reluctance to associate themselves with the individual.


Childrens' own economic resources important

The results show that it is more common for children with less economic resources to have a poorer social situation in the school class. Simon Hjalmarsson emphasizes that it is children's own economic resources – not just household income, that have been studied. Prior research shows that the household's economic situation do not necessarily have a direct impact on the children's resources, there is an equalization that could depend on parents prioritizing the children above other expenditures.

Researcher Simn Hjalmarsson
Simon Hjalmarsson, PhD in sociology at SOFI.Photo: Sören Andersson

“Associations between household income and children’s own access to economic resources are not as strong as one might think. It is therefore important to attempt to measure children's actual access to economic resources and not only focus on the household as a whole”, said Simon Hjalmarsson.

The results of the dissertation, Simon Hjalmarsson believes, could be explained by the fact that the poorer economy provides fewer opportunities to develop one’s social contacts, for example during leisure activities outside of school, and that the self-esteem of children can be negatively affected by the poorer economy. These are also explanations that previous research has pointed to.

“If you are not present at an activity, you cannot use that contact to create positive relationships. Qualitative interview studies suggest that children often are ashamed of their worse economic situation, which can affect their self-esteem and make them withdraw from social situations. These negative effects could also interact and strengthen one another”, said Simon Hjalmarsson.

He also points out that the dissertation is based on a survey of a large and representative sample, improving the knowledge base for staff and decision makers in for example schools and social services seeking to promote children's social inclusion. At the same time, the methods used cannot completely rule out the possibility that the associations between economic resources and social relationships are driven by something other than the economic resources.

“We know that individuals' social relationships have strong connections to one's well-being overall, so by extension this could affect a large part of everyday life. It is important that we now have a better picture of how economic resources are associated with social relationships. If we want to promote social inclusion, various ways to reduce the costs of the activities that attract children and youth, can be useful tools”, said Simon Hjalmarsson.


More about the dissertation

The dissertation uses data from the Swedish part of the European school survey CILS4EU , collected in the winter of 2010/2011. The data constitutes a representative sample of the 2010 Swedish eighth-graders and more than 5,000 children from 251 school classes and 129 schools answered the survey. The children answered questions about their own economic resources and relationships with classmates. The children's survey responses have been linked to information about parents and household income through a parental survey as well as through information drawn from register data.  

Read more about the research:

The studies “Do poorer youth have fewer friends ? The role of household and child economic resources in adolescent school-class friendships” and “ Poor Kids? Economic Resources and Adverse Peer Relations in a Nationally Representative Sample of Swedish Adolescents ” is part of the dissertation “ Taking Part on Equal Terms ?: Associations between Economic Resources and Social Participation among Swedish Adolescents ” and are freely available to read.


Simon Hjalmarsson, PhD in sociology
Swedish Institute for Social Research (SOFI)
Tel: 08-16 26 38
Email: simon.hjalmarsson@sofi.su.se