Relative deprivation and adolescent outcomes in Iceland: A multilevel test

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Abstract

The theory of relative deprivation emphasizes that social comparisons contextualize how people experience impoverishment. An important application of this theory argues that relative deprivation that stems from unfavorable social comparisons can result in anger, normlessness and an increased likelihood of deviant behavior. We test this theory in a new societal setting - Iceland. Specifically, we test the proposition that the effects of economic deprivation on individual outcomes are contingent on the standard of living enjoyed by the person's reference groups. Using multilevel data on 5,491 Icelandic adolescents in 83 school-communities, we find consistent support for the theory. We show that the effects of economic deprivation on adolescent anger, normlessness, delinquency, violence and subjective relative family status are weak in school-communities where economic deprivation is common, while the effects are significantly stronger in school-communities where economic deprivation is rare.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1223-1250
Number of pages28
JournalSocial Forces
Volume87
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The preparation of this article was aided by grants from the University of Iceland Research Fund and the Scandinavian Council for Criminology. We thank Sigrun Olafsdottir for helpful comments on an earlier draft, and Stefan Jansen, Hulda Orradóttir and Bryndís Björk Ásgeirsdóttir for providing us with supplementary data used to examine measurement validity of focal measures. An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2007 Meeting of the American Sociological Association. Direct correspondance to Jón Gunnar Bernburg, Department of Sociology, University of Iceland, Gimli Building, 101 Reykjavik, Iceland. Email: bernburg@hi.is.

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