Culture of Poverty

“Culture of Poverty”

The “culture of poverty” was introduced or was popularized by Oscar Lewis
while studying poor families in Mexico and Puerto Rican families San Juan and
New York. The theory maintains that culturally based attitudes or predisposition
such as “present-mindedness” and “obsessive-consumption” are the major
barriers to economic mobility for many of the poor. Lewis’ theory likewise
implies that this is not a short-lived financial predicament for the poor, but a
way of life bolstered by the hopelessness of accomplishing even minor economic

Lewis argues that there are certain cultural characteristics among the poor
in industrial capitalist societies. Lewis and others agree that poor people in
such societies display certain characteristics and values that are not held by
non-poor in those same societies. “These characteristics are: the absence of
childhood as a specially prolonged and protected state in the life-cycle, early
initiation into sex, free unions or consensual marriages, a relatively high
incidents of abandonment of wives and children, a tend toward female or mother
centered families, a strong predisposition toward authoritarianism, lack of
privacy, verbal emphasis upon family solidarity which is only rarely achieved
because of sibling rivalry, and competition for limited goods and material
affection.”(Lewis 1965)

Lewis also believed the culture of poverty socialized the poor into political
apathy, immediate gratification, broken families and passive responses of their
economic plight, and he argued that the poor could not lose this debilitating
culture even if they ceased to be poor.

Accordingly, the culture of poverty theory was investigated by social
scientists, economists, sociologists, anthropologists, and found to be false.
Poor people have the same culture, values, and social consciences as any other
classification of people. It is thought that by virtue of distinct controlling
factors and lack of opportunities the poor will have different behavior. The
culture of poverty theory was essentially dead as far as social science was
concerned. Thus, the vicious cycle theory was found to be true.

Category: Social Issues