What Do Movies Teach Children About Money, Class, and Status?

Posted on February 26, 2016 at 8:00 am

Science of Us reports on a new paper about the way money, class, and status are portrayed in films for children. It is Benign Inequality: Frames of Poverty and Social Class Inequality in Children’s Movies published in the Journal of Poverty by Dr. Jessi Streib, Miryea Ayala, and Colleen Wixted. Some of the findings:

The films mostly feature wealthy primary characters. The researchers evaluated the films’ content to divide primary characters into five classes, from “upper class” to “poor,” and discovered that more than 56 percent of the films’ primary characters were in the top two categories, upper class or upper middle class (it turns out Santa Claus is upper middle class). So, at least compared to the real-world distribution of wealth, middle- and lower-class characters were significantly underrepresented.

The films mostly make class out to not be a big deal. Streib and her co-authors note that even when characters from lower classes are represented, “their hardships are generally downplayed or erased.”

Of course, these portrayals are not unique to movies. Films like “Cinderella” and “Aladdin” are based on old stories. And fiction for all ages tends to speak to our fantasies about having money and power or by outsmarting those who do. But studies like these provide an important reminder that parents should use what children see as an opportunity to talk to them about their values and let them know that they should ask (privately) any time they have questions about money, class, and status.

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Parenting Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Talking to Children about Poverty

Posted on October 15, 2008 at 4:56 pm

Families may find that their children have picked up some of the concerns about the economy from the news or overheard adult conversations. They will need to be reassured that even if their families have suffered some financial setbacks, they have all of the love and courage they need to keep them safe. And they will also need to be reassured that there is something they can do to help those who are less fortunate.
This summer’s American Girls movie, Kit Kittredge, is a very good way to begin a conversation with children about the current economic problems and their consequences. I particularly appreciate the way that it makes clear that the homeless characters are less fortunate but no less filled with dignity, decency, and humanity. The range of responses to poverty depicted in the film gives families a lot to talk about. So does the way that even the poorest find ways to help others in need.
Slate has a superb discussion of children’s books that discuss poverty by Erica S. Perl. From classics like Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, Little House on the Prairie, and Ramona and Her Father to more recent books like Spuds, these stories give families a chance to talk about difficult issues with that all-important distance because it is happening to other people at other times.
And Perl includes that most irrepressibly sunny survivor of hard times, Annie , who reminds us that even the most hard-knock life will be sunnier “Tomorrow.”

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