Income inequality and adolescent gambling severity: Findings from a large-scale Italian representative survey

Abstract

Background:
Studies have shown that problems related to adult gambling have a geographical and social gradient. For instance, adults experiencing gambling-related harms live in areas of greater deprivation; are unemployed, and have lower income. However, little is known about the impact of socioeconomic inequalities on adolescent problem gambling. The main purpose of the present study was to investigate the contextual influences of income inequality on at-risk or problem gambling (ARPG) in a large-scale nationally representative sample of Italian adolescents. A secondary aim was to analyze the association between perceived social support (from family, peers, teachers, and classmates) and ARPG.

Methods:
Data from the 2013–2014 Health Behavior in School-aged Children Survey (HBSC) Study was used for cross-sectional analyses of ARPG. A total of 20,791 15-year-old students completed self-administered questionnaires. Region-level data on income inequality (GINI index) and overall wealth (GDP per capita) were retrieved from the National Institute of Statistics (Istat). The data were analyzed using the multi-level logistic regression analysis, with students at the first level and regions at the second level.

Results:
The study demonstrated a North–South gradient for the prevalence of ARPG, with higher prevalence of ARPG in the Southern/Islands/Central Regions (e.g., 11% in Sicily) than in Northern Italy (e.g., 2% in Aosta Valley). Students in regions of high-income inequality were significantly more likely than those in regions of low-income inequality to be at-risk or problem gamblers (following adjustment for sex, family structure, family affluence, perceived social support, and regionale wealth). Additionally, perceived social support from parents and teachers were negatively related to ARPG.

Conclusions:
Income inequality may have a contextual influence on ARPG. More specifically, living in regions of highest income inequality appeared to be a potential factor that increases the likelihood of becoming an at-risk or problem gambler. Findings of the study suggest that wealth distribution within societies affected by economic policies may indirectly have an influence adolescent gambling behaviors.

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