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Lichter, Daniel T.; Shanahan, Michael J.; & Gardner, Erica L. (2002). Helping Others?: The Effects of Childhood Poverty and Family Instability on Prosocial Behavior. Youth and Society, 34(1), 89-119.


This article examines the relationship between poverty and family instability during childhood on prosocial behavior—volunteerism—during late adolescence. The 1996 Young Adult supplements of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) are linked to mother and family records from the 1979-1996 main NLSY sample to create life history records spanning childhood and adolescence. Adolescents—especially males—from single-parent families are less likely than those growing up in married-couple households to be involved in volunteer work. Volunteerism is more strongly related to time spent in poverty among females than males. The results support a mediational model, in which negative effects of childhood social and economic disadvantages on later prosocial behavior occur indirectly through effects on socioemotional development and life experiences during adolescence. The results inform current concerns about putative declines in a civil society and the elevation of individualism over communalism among today's young people.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Youth and Society


Lichter, Daniel T.
Shanahan, Michael J.
Gardner, Erica L.