Stages in the Child's Construction of Social Knowledge
Juan Delval Autónoma Universidad of Madrid
The first time a 9-year-old child explained to me that poor people were poor because they did not have any money to buy a job with, the answer went almost unnoticed. Occasionally more subjects repeated the idea using identical words, others mentioned the idea en passé, and a few subjects were more explicit and explained that to get a job one must pay at the beginning and later one gets paid. This is not the usual practice in our societies. Generally one does not have to pay to get a job, except for a few professions. Due to this reason we were not expecting these answers, which were frequently given by children from different social classes as an explanation of why poor people were poor, and we found them very surprising.
Our surprise increased when Mexican children gave us an identical explanation, as if they had all learned the same thing. Obviously we found no evidence that this idea was taught anywhere, especially as it did not correspond to any social practices in either of the two countries ( Spain and Mexico). We also noticed that Leahy ( 1983b) cited an answer of this type from a 6-year-old child in the United States and Berti and Bombi ( 1981, 1988) from Italian children. Since then, while asking children about diverse matters concerning jobs and social status, we have found numerous children who mention this idea spontaneously.
How is it possible that children aged between 6 and 10 from different countries and varying social classes give the same explanation? How is it that these explanations do not correspond to social practices and that they mysteriously disappear around the age of 11? Furthermore, this type of belief does not constitute an isolated case, but it appears in many other