Academic Paper

Childhood Development and Access to Nature: A New Direction for Environmental Inequality Research

Although environmental inequality researchers have increased our understanding of race- and class-based environmental inequality in many important ways, few environmental inequality studies ask whether children are disproportionately burdened by environmental pollution or whether poor and minority youth are less likely than their White and wealthier counterparts to spend time in green spaces and the natural world. This gap in the literature undermines the ability of researchers to fully understand and explain environmental inequality. To demonstrate the importance of filling this gap, the authors (a) highlight current research findings from the environmental health, environmental education, and environmental psychology literatures regarding the cognitive, emotional, and physical importance of childhood exposure to nature and (b) summarize the few existing studies that have examined class- and race-based inequalities in children’s exposure to the natural world and industrial environmental hazards. The authors then suggest several avenues of research that would, if undertaken, significantly increase our understanding of youth-based environmental inequality. By synthesizing findings across multiple disciplines, the authors hope to convince environmental inequality researchers of the importance of investigating children’s differential exposure to nature, green spaces, and industrial environmental hazards.