What Is Sociology of Poverty?

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  • Written By: Angela Farrer
  • Edited By: Rachel Catherine Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 01 April 2020
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Sociology of poverty is the concentrated study of how this particular aspect of society affects the behaviors, interactions, and outlooks of different groups of people. This study of sociology also frequently attempts to trace the root causes of poverty among people of various backgrounds. Different sociology studies of poverty can be based on varied schools of thought according to academic researchers' points of view. While the sociology of poverty usually examines the causes and circumstances closely, it normally leaves formulating possible solutions to other disciplines such as economic theory.

The study of poverty is often required for a sociology degree in order to gain an understanding of concepts such as socioeconomic class stratification. Two of the most frequently studied theories of why poverty exists include the situational theory and the structural theory. The situational theory focuses on the fact that the poor usually lack the needed resources for upward mobility, and the structural theory examines how certain arrangements of society are responsible for consistent poverty among certain groups. These theories are two examples that provide a broader framework for studying the sociology of poverty.


Scholars who are studying this field of sociology often examine more specific factors such as prolonged unemployment, a lack of available jobs that pay living wages, and insufficient education that could otherwise lift certain groups out of poverty. The sociology of poverty also includes studies of crime rates among the poor, certain cultural practices that are unique to poverty, and the most common stereotypes of the poor. A common debate among many sociologists is whether the poor are solely responsible for their own fate or if larger society is at least partially to blame for keeping them below established poverty lines.

Group interactions in poor communities are frequent areas of interest for researchers who study the sociology of poverty. Some scholars may compile case studies of the underground economies in which people in poor areas provide cash-only goods and services for one another that go unreported to tax authorities. Others may study the prevalence of illegal or semi-legal means of income that are prevalent among many communities' poorest residents. A related focus concerns how poverty functions to maintain other classes of a given society. This particular school of thought in the sociology of poverty argues that the poor have a necessary economic function because they comprise a ready labor force for the lowest-paying and most distasteful jobs that other socioeconomic classes are unwilling to perform.


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Post 3

@pleonasm - I can understand the arguments of people who think that the poor need more education or that they are simply less able to rise above a certain economic level, for whatever reason. It's difficult to pass a homeless man who is reeking of alcohol and not think that in some way he built his own fate.

But it's such a complex equation. There are plenty of kids out there who honestly have no idea what it means to save, what it means to work a whole day, a whole week at a time, who don't know how to bow to authority and when to stick up for themselves. Those things are really hard to instill in yourself, particularly when

you don't realize that is why you can't keep a job.

And that's not even factoring in addiction. As someone who has given up smoking, I can tell you I would be terrified to ever go on hard drugs, because I don't think I'd have the power to give them up. But people born into poverty accept the move into drug culture the way people born to affluence accept the move into college life: as inevitable.

It's a sad circle and it harms everyone in the world, poor or not.

Post 2

@browncoat - I know there are some studies that have been done with kids in schools where the teacher is told that the child isn't doing very well, or isn't smart and they treat the child differently, as though they can't achieve very highly.

I would imagine that poor kids, who don't have the nice clothes and shoes and the designer haircuts and so forth, probably get the same kind of unwitting prejudice from everyone in authority over them. I wonder if that's as much of a contributor to the rates of youth delinquency as anything else. But I come down squarely on the side of people who think that poverty is inflicted on the poor, rather than that they simply can't manage to get out of it through laziness.

Post 1

I wonder if they ever study the reactions of other people to poverty. I mean, it must have some effect on the average person, to be in the presence of people who are demonstrably poor. Does walking past a homeless person every day make you more or less likely to give to charity, for example?

One practical application of this could be to target ads for charities better on TV. Some of them concentrate on contrasting one lifestyle with another, some show before and after photos, some try humor and so forth. But which is the most effective?

And I've seen TV shows where a rich kid is matched with a poor kid of the same age and they "swap

" families for a day so that they can see what it's like to have the shoe on the other foot. I wonder what that actually achieves. It might completely change the rich kid's life, or it might just be a funny thing they did one summer.

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