In one Vancouver corner, even money can’t buy happiness

It appears money isn’t always in a child’s best interest. Family is what makes everything work for a child, without it life is a struggle. Canada is doing a poor job of recognizing this and supporting it. Click here to read the full article or an excerpt below.

43 per cent of kindergarten-aged kids from the neighbourhood qualified this year as “vulnerable” on a standard index of childhood development, according to an annual state-of-the-city report—a third more than last year and four times the level seen 10 years ago. The kids were assessed on the Educational Development Index (EDI), a tool used by all 13 provinces and territories to measure school readiness based on language skills, emotional maturity, socialization, physical health and general knowledge. Officials with the West Vancouver Community Foundation, the non-profit organization that publishes the report, believe language is the biggest factor. About 41 per cent of residents in West Vancouver are first-generation immigrants, they note, and the number is steadily growing.

But the language barrier alone doesn’t explain the slow development of the Properties’ pre-schoolers. The neighbourhood remains a redoubt of the world’s blessed and clever, from software tycoons to famous architects. Its sons and daughters enjoy every advantage over their less wealthy peers, be they excellent genes or infinity pools in which to learn the dog paddle. Yet the proportion categorized as vulnerable puts the area on par with low-income immigrant neighbourhoods such as Toronto’s Thorncliffe Park, whose residents face the same linguistic challenges and a fraction of the disposable income to address them.

It’s been enough to make community leaders in West Van reconsider assumptions about money’s power to close social and cultural gaps. Nancy Farran, chair of the city’s community foundation, has gone so far to suggest that the trappings of wealth themselves—live-in nannies, perimeter fences, winding approaches guarded by electronically controlled gates—discourage neighbourhood youngsters from socializing, deepening the linguistic divide. “You drive up your driveway and you don’t play with your neighbours the way we might have when we were kids,” she explains. “You don’t learn how to play out in the field. People just go home and stay home.”


Image of North Vancouver's British Properties neighbourhood for story about social isolation with Vancouver children. (Photograph by Simon Hayter)

Call it an uptown problem, but what’s going on in the British Properties may be a living illustration of something experts have charted since the wealth gap in Western countries became a chasm in the 1990s and early 2000s. At some point on the personal income curve, say researchers, acquiring money no longer enhances a person’s well-being and might actually make one more miserable. As fans of Dickens might guess, that’s because the real predictors of well-being are the bonds of family, friendship and community. Lara Aknin, a Simon Fraser University psychology professor who studies the relationship between affluence and well-being, says the happiness that money buys levels off around $75,000 per year, while new research suggests that a preoccupation with wealth can actually diminish one’s happiness. “One of the most likely causes,” she says, “is that pursuing money comes at the cost of time spent with friends and others close to us, which are some of our greatest sources of well-being.”




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