Bronfenbrenner’s Views on the Impact of Poverty on Children

The macrosystem is the outside level of Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems structure. Macrosystems extend beyond geographical and physical areas and encompass the emotional and ideological realms as well. Instead of one particular focus, this level contains a variety of influences, such as laws, customs, cultural values and resources. The exosystem, mesosystem and microsystem are all affected by the support of the macrosystem, with an indirect, yet important influence on the child.

Childhood poverty results in worse outcomes than poverty faced later in life. Children who live with chronic poverty have harsher results than those who were in temporary poverty situations. Poverty influences all levels of the ecological system structure, exerting a major influence on the child’s individual development. According to an article in Theory and Science by Tommy M. Phillips, it can be viewed as a macrosystem that affects development by influencing the nature of all lower-level systems. It influences interactions both within and between those systems.

Chronic poverty is often very cyclical in nature. If a child is raised in poverty, without means or motivation to rise above it, it is very likely that they will raise their own children in poverty. This trend frequently repeats throughout the generations and is often especially true within specific regions and cultures. For instance, people in the Appalachian Mountains have lived in extreme poverty for many generations. Another example would be generations of African American families living in low income project housing in crime ridden neighborhoods.

When poverty is all everyone around you has ever known, it can be extremely difficult to see a way to break the cycle. Poor children frequently attend schools that have limited funding and fewer resources and extracurricular opportunities. This makes it even more difficult for a poor child to see overcome their status. Influences from within the macrosystem, such as the way the legal system (police), social services (child welfare workers) and the church, view poverty may further shape the child’s identity and reinforce the idea that there is no way to overcome this way of life.

The chronosystem was added to the ecological systems structure later on. It encompasses the events and transitions over the course of a person’s life, such as divorce. It also encompasses historical changes that take place, such as it becoming normal for a mother to work outside of the home. Bronfenbrenner’s theory believes that the ecological system is an active system, constantly changing and developing. Changes, such as starting school, getting married, beginning a career, having a child, or retiring, are crucial to a person’s development. Life changes are often brought on by the external environment, but they can also come within an individual. Humans are able make choices that alter their own settings and understandings depending on their age, behavior, physical, logical and environmental factors at that time.

Poverty can be temporary and situational, thus having an impact on the chronosystem. Temporary poverty can be brought on by external forces, such as the current economic recession, or by poor choices a parent has made, such as bad investments. Even temporary poverty has been shown to have clear impact on a child’s development. Children experiencing temporary poverty may suffer from emotional and behavioral problems. They are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, low self esteem, and poor relationships with peers. They may struggle with school work and score lower on academic tests. When the financial stability of the family is restored, these issues generally subside. The longer the child is living in poverty, the more permanent and severe the results will be on the child’s development.

Phillips, Tommy M. (2007). A Triarchic Model of Poverty.

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