Culture of Poverty

Dana-Ain Davis

in Anthropology

ISBN: 9780199766567
Published online January 2012 | | DOI:
Culture of Poverty

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  • Anthropology
  • Human Evolution
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The term culture of poverty emerged in 1959 to explain why people were poor. The culture of poverty concept delineates factors associated with poor people’s behaviors, and argues that their values are distinguishable from members of the middle class. The persistence of poverty can presumably be explained by the reproduction of this “lifeway,” because the values that the poor have are passed down generationally. Initially the term was primarily applicable in Third World countries and in those nation-states in the early stages of industrialization. Culture of poverty proposed that approximately 20% of poor people are trapped in cycles of self-perpetuating behavior that caused poverty. More specifically, 70 behavioral traits or characteristics are identified with those who have a culture of poverty. These characteristics include weak ego structure, a sense of resignation and fatalism, strong present-time orientation, and confusion of sexual identification. Alternately, intellectual support has been found for various aspects of the culture of poverty concept and for criticisms leveled against the explanatory power of the framework. As it pertains to explaining poverty in US-based urban areas, ensuing research has focused on several areas, including the presentation of empirical evidence that identifies and explicates the absence, or presence, of some of the characteristics found among the poor. These include: social participation, pathological family structure, social isolation, and individual behavioral traits, among others. While the term did have its supporters, the degree of support varied. For example, some argued that while a culture of poverty did exist, the definition of culture was not adequate enough to use the framework effectively. The concept also had detractors, and, in fact, it has served to polarize poverty research scholars, practitioners, and policymakers. Some scholars find the concept ill-conceived because it is not empirically or politically contextualized. Others have found that the concept, which centers on individual behaviors, overlooks the interaction of behavior and structure. Still others claim that the urban-centric focus that came to be associated with the concept both subsumed the reality of poverty in urban areas and simultaneously racialized poverty as it became associated with African Americans.

Article.  7138 words. 

Subjects: Anthropology ; Human Evolution ; Medical Anthropology ; Physical Anthropology ; Social and Cultural Anthropology

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