Oscar Lewis, in 1959, released the first major work that introduced the idea of a culture of poverty. This work included a number of observations that defined the culture and set it apart from the rest of society. While this theory has sparked discussion on all sides, the theory itself has been often disputed as some contend that the culture of poverty is not significantly different from its non-poor counterpart.
Live in Present
Individuals living within the culture of poverty focus their ideals and actions on the present. This is partially an aspect of necessity, wherein an individual must be concerned with a month's bills, daily food, and gas and transportation responsibilities. Long term goals or realities that do not shape his present perspective, such as political concerns, saving for retirement or the ramifications of health decisions, become secondary to the realities and responsibilities of his daily concerns.
Alienation and Powerlessness
At the heart of the culture of poverty discussion are the feelings of alienation and powerlessness. These feelings stem from a feeling of disconnection from mainstream society, the inheritance of these feelings from parents living in similar social conditions and the inability to advance beyond the current fiscal condition. While it is believed that these feelings are predominant within the culture, studies show that these assumptions may be incorrect, says the University of Nebraska. The discrepancy of these studies may indicate a difference between the culture of poverty from different regions or an increase in social egalitarianism for those below the poverty level.
The culture of poverty theory describes a tendency toward casual relationships, common law marriages and an increased frequency of divorce. The theory suggests a sense of moral degradation within groups of poverty that lead to a breakdown of family values, including an increased tendency toward lax child raising. Studies suggest that these assumptions may be incorrect and show relatively similar percentages for marriages, as well as stricter child rearing techniques, says the University of Nebraska.
The quality of housing conditions within the culture of poverty are considered substandard in relation to the housing quality in non-poor regions. This discrepancy continues throughout the community, including the quality of education and other basic living conditions. These amenities have a direct correlation with a family's household income.
The culture of poverty theory defines a disconnection that individuals in poor societies feel from dominant groups, such as political campaigns, social organisations and universities. It notes that their lack of wealth restricts their social influence and access to such groups. According to the University of Nebraska, these disconnects are less accurate than previously thought as individuals within the poor community are as likely to be active in political groups and organisations as their non-poor counterparts.
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