Poverty and Culture

Lawrence M. Mead

    Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review


    Poverty persists in America even amidst the world’s richest nation. Attempts to attribute longterm poverty to social barriers, such as racial discrimination or lack of jobs, have failed. Some scholars now attribute poverty to culture in the sense that many poor become disillusioned and no longer seek to advance themselves. More plausible is cultural difference. The United States has an individualist culture, derived from Europe, where most people seek to achieve personal goals. Racial minorities, however, all come from non-Western cultures where most people seek to adjust to outside conditions rather than seeking change. Another difference is that Westerners are moralistic about social order, demanding that behavior respect universal principles, while in the non-West norms are less rigid and depend mostly on the expectations of others. These differences best explain why minorities—especially blacks and Hispanics—typically respond only weakly to chances to get ahead through education and work, and also why crime and other social problems run high in low-income areas. The black middle class has converted to an individualist style and thus advanced, but most blacks have not. Government has recently reduced crime and welfare in poor areas, but the ultimate solution to poverty is for the poor themselves to adopt the more inner-driven individualist style.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    StateAccepted/In press - 2020


    • Culture
    • Individualism
    • Minorities
    • Poverty

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science
    • General Social Sciences


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