Effects of Appearance Discrimination on Children and How to Remedy It

Appearance discrimination is treating a person unfairly because of how they look. It has been found that the prevalence of discrimination because of physical appearance is significantly higher in girls.[i] Gender discrimination can be the real motive of appearance-based discrimination.[ii]

Appearance discrimination needs more awareness because most people do not consider discrimination based on physical appearance[iii] and yet it has a huge impact on many young people, especially today. In one study, the most prevalent was discrimination because of physical appearance.[iv]

Appearance discrimination often results in bullying for many young people, whether it is done consciously or unconsciously.[v]Unfortunately, in a study, many people that have a visible difference said that their school didn’t do anything to stop them from being bullied.[vi] Another study’s results showed that almost 20% of the adolescents questioned were exposed to discrimination, most frequently to discrimination because of physical appearance.[vii]

If the results of appearance discrimination are not addressed, it can have drastic impacts on how young people view themselves and their futures. Some studies have revealed troubling statistics of the outcomes.

  • 43% of people with a visible difference said it had an impact on their ambition or aspiration in relation to college or university.[viii] More than a fifth (22.3%) of respondents said that their appearance affected their decision on moving into further or higher education.[ix]
  • There are suggestions that people who face discrimination at a young age are more likely to develop behavioral and mental health problems later in life.[x]
  • Appearance discrimination can result in poor body image, which can lead to unhealthy eating habits and decreased self-esteem.[xi]

How to Rectify:

More education and workshops, like Dove’s “Confident Me” lesson workshops[xii], to teach young children about appearance discrimination and empower them to make a difference and feel confident in themselves.

Educating teachers and education professionals what they can do to support children with a visible difference or dealing with these issues and create an inclusive learning environment for all pupils. This could include talking to students about visible differences, addressing appearance-related bullying, and recognizing and challenging unconscious bias.

Parents should educate themselves, as well as their children, on visible differences and helping tackle discrimination by introducing children to the idea of difference at a young age. There are books, TV shows, films, and toys that explore visible difference and disfigurements and challenge myths and stereotypes about those that look different.

Finding ways to increase the representation of those with visible differences in mainstream media. If there can be a way to change the narrative from only being what society deems as “beautiful” is “good,” while the protagonists and villains are visibly different in some way, then there could be some positive changes made when it comes to appearance discrimination.

[i] Laura Bitto Urbanova et al., Adolescents exposed to discrimination: are they more prone to excessive internet use?

[ii] Marcel Schwantes, New Research Reveals Why ‘Appearance Discrimination’ Is Making Workplace Even More Toxic

[iii] Cherea Hammer, A Look into Lookism: An Evaluation of Discrimination Based on Physical Attractiveness

[iv] Bitto Urbanova et al., Adolescents exposed to discrimination: are they more prone to excessive internet use?

[v] https://www.changingfaces.org.uk/for-professionals/teachers/guidance-training-cpd/physical-appearance-discrimination-schools/

[vi] Id.

[vii] Bitto Urbanova et al., Adolescents exposed to discrimination: are they more prone to excessive internet use?

[viii] https://www.changingfaces.org.uk/for-professionals/teachers/guidance-training-cpd/physical-appearance-discrimination-schools/

[ix] Id.

[x] Joe Hernandez, A study links facing discrimination at a young age with future mental health issues

[xi] Amy Morin, How Exposure to the Media Can Harm Your Teen’s Body Image

[xii] https://www.dove.com/us/en/dove-self-esteem-project/school-workshops-on-body-image-confident-me/confident-me-appearance-discrimination.html

COVID-19 and Child Poverty: How a Pandemic Showed Us We Have a Choice

Over the course of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the rate of child poverty in the United States has fallen dramatically “from 14.2% in 2018 to less than 5.6% in 2021” with severe poverty cutting almost in half.[1] In fact, the 2020 child poverty rates in the United States were the lowest they have been since the 1960s when the US Census Bureau began measuring child poverty rates.[2]

The decrease in child poverty is due to the government’s expansion “of the social safety net,” including the “child tax credit and funding for food.”[3] The child tax credit alone decreased child poverty by approximately 40 percent after providing families with monthly checks to cover basic necessities.[4] In addition to the child tax credit, “other safety-net expansions” provided during the pandemic included “three stimulus checks, a moratorium on evictions, increased unemployment benefits and more funding for food, through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and housing.”[5] According to research, if these safety-net options were not provided, approximately one out of three children in the United States “would be living in poverty.”[6]

However, experts warn that permitting these “measures to expire may” result in child poverty rates increasing once again.[7] The child tax credit already expired in January 2022, resulting in 3.7 million more children in poverty, “a 41% increase from December.”[8] Families who previously used the child tax credit to cover basic necessities are struggling to provide their families with “food, pay rent and keep the lights on,” especially because prices continue to rise.[9]

Not only is alleviating poverty the right thing to do, but there are also economic benefits for reducing the rate of child poverty.[10] In fact, the National Academy of Sciences found that “child poverty costs the US between $800bn and $1.1tn each year” due to “lost adult productivity and the increased cost of health and criminal justice spending.”[11]

The safety-net expansions implemented during the pandemic demonstrate how allowing children to remain in poverty is a choice and how we know some ways to end child poverty.[12] Now, it is time to implement policies to end child poverty once and for all.

[1] Melody Schreiber, Child poverty will rise if US withdraws COVID-era benefits, experts warn, Guardian (Mar. 17, 2022) https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/mar/17/us-child-poverty-rate-welfare-measures-expire-experts.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

New Research Analyzes the Effects of Foster Care on Children’s Well-Being

New research, published in April analyzes the effectiveness of the foster care system in Michigan.[1] In what is perhaps a surprising result, children who enter the foster care system are better off than their peers who remain with their parents.

A recent study showed that 6% of all American children spend some amount of time in the foster care system. That number is much higher for children of color: 10% of Black children enter the foster care system at some point in their childhood, and 15% of Native American children enter the system at some point.[2]

Economists have been studying foster care outcomes since 2007. Previous research studied foster care outcomes from Illinois and found that foster care hurt children more than leaving children in the home.[3] That study looked at children on the margin – those who were on the boundary between being removed from the home and staying with parents – to show that those who were removed from the home were convicted of crimes at higher rates, and had lower long-term incomes.

This study uses the same research design in Michigan, and suggests the opposite result: these authors found that foster care reduced the likelihood that children were alleged to be victims of abuse by 52%, increased daily school attendance by 6%, and a small decrease in findings of juvenile delinquency.

So why is Michigan so different from Illinois? These authors suggest that Illinois’ foster care system was especially harmful, so rather than foster care in general harming children, Illinois’ implementation of foster care was to blame. As evidence, they show that Illinois children spent the longest amount of time in the system in the country, while Michigan is closer to average.

Another possible explanation is that foster care has simply improved over time. The authors cite to a child trends study which shows that children are now spending less time in the system, and are being placed with family members more often.[4]

What does this mean for those interested in child policy? It’s not quite clear. Hopefully, research like this will prompt other states to look at their own foster care programs to see if they are more like Illinois or Michigan. We know that removing a child from the home is a drastic measure that should only be taken when absolutely necessary. Nothing here suggests that more children should enter foster care, only that in this particular jurisdiction, it is effective for the child on the bubble between removal and remaining in the home.

My takeaway is this: good foster care that helps children is possible. It might look like shorter stays in the system and more placements with family members. It definitely looks like states should be analyzing their foster care systems with the most advanced tools possible, like the ones these economists employed.

[1] Max Gross & E. Jason Baron, Temporary Stays and Persistent Gains: The Causal Effects of Foster Care, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 14(2): 170–199 (2022).

[2] Emanuel Wildeman, Cumulative Risks of Foster Care Placement by Age 18 for U.S. Children, 2000–2011, PLoS ONE 9(3): e92785 (2014).

[3] Joseph J. Doyle, Jr., Child Protection and Child Outcomes: Measuring the Effects of Foster Care, American Economic Review 97 (5): 1583-1610 (2007) (“the results suggest that children on the margin of placement tend to have better outcomes when they remain at home, especially older children.”).

[4] Child Trends, Child Trends Databank, https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/foster-care.