Economic inequality is a growing concern in the United States and globally. The current study uses qualitative techniques to (a) explore the attributions low-income racial/ethnic minority and immigrant women make for poverty and wealth in the U.S., and (b) clarify important links between attributions, critical consciousness development, and system justification theory. Methods: In-depth interview transcripts from 19 low-income immigrant Dominican and Mexican and native African American mothers in a large Northeastern city were analyzed using open coding techniques. Interview topics included perceptions of current economic inequality and mobility and experiences of daily economic hardships. Results: Almost all respondents attributed economic inequality to individual factors (character flaws, lack of hard work). Structural explanations for poverty and wealth were expressed by fewer than half the sample and almost always paired with individual explanations. Moreover, individual attributions included system-justifying beliefs such as the belief in meritocracy and equality of oppor- tunity and structural attributions represented varying levels of critical consciousness. Conclusions: Our analysis sheds new light on how and why individuals simultaneously hold individual and structural attributions and highlights key links between system justification and critical consciousness. It shows that critical consciousness and system justification do not represent opposite stances along a single underlying continuum, but are distinct belief systems and motivations. It also suggests that the motive to justify the system is a key psychological process impeding the development of critical consciousness. Implications for scholarship and intervention are discussed.
- Attributions for poverty and wealth
- Critical consciousness
- Qualitative methods
- System justification theory
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Social Psychology
- Sociology and Political Science