Cumulative and Relative Disadvantage as Long-Term Determinants of Negative Self-feelings


  • Howard B. Kaplan died on October 9, 2011. This article, co-authored with Heili Pals, represents one of his last published works. Howard was mentor and friend to many, and will be greatly missed. Please direct correspondence to: Heili Pals, Sociology Department, University of Central Florida, 4000 Central Florida Blvd, Phillips Hall, Room 403, Orlando, FL 32816-1360, USA; e-mail:


We analyze the long-term effects of neighborhood poverty and crime on negative self-feelings of young adults. Cumulative and relative disadvantage explanations are tested with the interactive effect of (1) neighborhood and individual-level economic disadvantage and (2) neighborhood crime and economic disadvantage. Results from a longitudinal study following adolescents to young adulthood show that the development of negative self-feelings (a combination of depression, anxiety, and self-derogation) is determined by relative, rather than cumulative disadvantage. The poor in affluent neighborhoods have the highest negative self-feelings, while the relatively wealthy in poor neighborhoods have the lowest negative self-feelings. Similarly, we find the highest increase in negative self-feelings is found in an affluent neighborhood with crime and not in a poor neighborhood with crime.