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Childhood development and access to nature: A new direction for environmental inequality research

Summary


Research is needed to understand whether and why inequalities exist in terms of children’s exposure to toxic pollutants, nature, and green space

In recent years, numerous studies have examined race- and class-based environmental inequality in terms of adult exposure to toxic pollutants. Few studies, however, examine race or class inequalities with respect to access to nature and green space, especially among children and youth. The purpose of this study was to help fill this notable gap by summarizing the current literature and making recommendations for additional research. Strife and Downey state, “Research suggests that children disproportionately suffer the long-term developmental consequences of limited experiences in nature, making it imperative that environmental inequality researchers places children and their differential contact with and experiences in nature at the forefront of their research.”

Their methodology includes review of research findings from multiple fields, including environmental health, environmental education, and environmental psychology. Their intent was to be able to establish a solid evidence-based foundation for looking at children’s differential exposure to nature, green spaces, and industrial environmental hazards. They state that, “It is critical, therefore, to determine whether poor and minority children are more likely than their White and wealthier counterparts to be exposed to toxic pollutants and whether they are less likely to have contact with and experiences in the natural world. Determining whether such inequalities exist has potentially important public health, educational, environmental, and labor market implications.”

Strife and Downey review research that has examined: 1) inequality in children’s exposure to industrial environmental hazards, 2) children’s exposure to nature as it relates to their health and the health of the planet, and 3) research related to inequality in children’s exposure to nature. They also review and summarize the benefits to children from access to nature and green spaces, cognitively, emotionally and physically.
The authors conclude that very little research has been conducted to determine whether and why inequalities exist in terms of children’s exposure to toxic pollutants and nature. Strife and Downey highlight the importance of improving our knowledge in these areas, suggest expanding research efforts, and provide ideas on how additional research could be implemented.

Citation

Strife, S., Downey, L., (2009). Childhood development and access to nature: A new direction for environmental inequality research. Organization & Environment, 22(1), 99 - 122.

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