Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Social Status and Children's Behaviour: Do Ecological Correlations Reflect Family-Level Associations?

Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Social Status and Children's Behaviour: Do Ecological Correlations Reflect Family-Level Associations?

Article excerpt

Pendant les 60 dernieres annees, les geographes et sociologues ont approche le probleme de la maladie mentale d'une perspective ecologique, essayant d'identifier les variables qui peuvent offrir un apercu dans une (des) cause(s) potentielle(s) de trouble mental. Implicite dans beaucoup de cette recherche est une supposition que les correlations ecologiques offrent un apercu dans les processus qui peuvent se produire au niveau de l'individu ou de la famille. Relativement peu a ete fait, cependant, pour evaluer l'utilitaire de l'approche ecologique en identifiant differents facteurs de risque potentiels d'un niveau individuel/famille. Cet article examine des resultats d'une enquete de sante mentale des enfants au jardin d'enfants jusqu'a la quatrieme annee dans la partie la plus urbaine de "Greater Victoria", Colombie Britannique. Des correlations ecologiques ont ete employees pour evaluer les rapports entre cinq indicateurs variables de statut social et la predominance du comportement problematique dans l'echantillon au niveau de region de recensement. Pour les buts de la comparaison, des donnees rassemblees dans l'enquete ont ete employees pour determiner le degre d'association entre le statut de comportement et les facteurs de risque potentiel mesures au niveau de famille. Les resultats pour les deux types d'analyse suggerent un lien entre le statut social et la sante mentale des enfants. Cependant, les differences evidentes dans les rapports entre le comportement problematique et les variables a chaque echelle renforce le besoin d'attention dans l'interpretation des analyses ecologiques.


For the past 60 years, Geographers and Sociologists have considered mental health problems from an ecological perspective. This approach typically involves the analysis of rates of incidence, prevalence, or referral to mental health services for areal units of various scales, ranging from readily available, relatively small spatial units such as enumeration areas and census tracts to larger (and not necessarily contiguous) aggregations based upon some measure of the similarity of these units with respect to the 'risk' variables chosen for analysis.

The first ecological study of mental illness, undertaken by Faris and Dunham (1939), found that overall rates of hospital admission for mental illness in Chicago were highest in the city centre, and declined with distance from this core area. This pattern, and its association with areas of social and economic deprivation, was also observed for specific psychiatric disorders, with the exception of the apparently more random incidence of manic-depression. Similar results were revealed in an examination of data for Providence, Rhode Island (Faris and Dunham 1939), and in later work completed in Chicago (Levy and Rowitz 1973), Nottingham (Giggs 1973, 1983, 1986; Giggs and Mather 1983; Giggs and Cooper 1986), and Plymouth (Dean and James 1981). As well, more recent research suggests that the social status--mental health link implied in ecological studies of adult mental illness is likewise observed when considering rates of psychiatric service utilisation or sub-clinical behavioural problems in urban children (LeClair 1994, 2001; LeClair and Innes 1997).

The results of aggregate-areal analyses have traditionally been interpreted in two ways, with each interpretation predicated on the assumption that the results obtained offer insight into underlying causal mechanisms which, in generating psychological disturbance, produced the spatial patterns observed:

First, attention may be given to the potential impact of the characteristics of the broad social and physical environment on psycho-social well-being, assuming that the risk of developing a mental health problem transcends the characteristics of the individual. While much of the research cited is limited to speculation about such 'contextual' explanations (see MacIntyre and Ellaway 2000), other work attempts to put the psycho-social well-being of individuals 'in place,' as a product of both individual and neighbourhood/community-level risk and protective factors. …

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