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Theories of Poverty
The Culture of poverty
• Oscar Lewis developed this
theory “the culture of poverty”
• He states that being in Poverty
tends to create a way of living
that becomes a culture of its
• This culture is “learned, shared
and socially transmitted as a
behaviour of a social group”
• What does Oscar Lewis mean
by this?
Social Segregation
• Oscar Lewis saw people living
in this culture as a separate
part of society
• He stated that the urban poor
”make little use of institutions
such as banks, hospitals,
museums and art galleries”
• In this way, Lewis argues that
the poor segregate themselves
from mainstream society
• Can you think of any reasons
for this low participation?
Lewis argues that once established, the
culture of poverty
• “tends to perpetuate itself
from generation to generation
because of its effects on
• By the time slum children are
aged 6 or 7 they have
absorbed the values and
attitudes of their culture
• And they are not
psychologically geared to take
full advantage of increased
opportunities which may occur
in their lifetime”
The cycle of poverty and
• In this way Lewis would state
that the culture of Poverty
perpetuates through the
• A CYCLE of Poverty is
produced from which each
generation finds difficult to
• Besides the learned cultural
norms what other barriers are
there to prevent poor children
from improving their future
• Look at the flow chart on page 317 in your
text book
• Draw your own diagram of the cycle of
Social Exclusion
• Social exclusion is a much
broader concept than poverty
• It refers to being “shut out” or
excluded from mainstream
• Like Oscar Lewis’ theory of
social segregation, social
exclusion describes divisions in
• Unlike Lewis, this theory claims
that social exclusion
PREVENTS people from
participating in society
Situational Constraints
• This theory states that the poor
are trapped into poverty because
of their situation
It rejects that it is the culture of
poverty that constrains them
Once poverty is removed then the
poor will have no difficulty in
seizing opportunities in society
It states that the poor share the
values of society as a whole
they do not have separate
cultural values that are at odds
with society
New Right views
• New Right theorists such as
Charles Murray would disagree
• He takes the work of Lewis
further by stating that Britain
now has an “underclass”
• This group has different
attitudes and values to the rest
of society
• He states that the underclass
are the “undeserving poor”
and that they have no wish to
support themselves
Welfare Dependency
• According to Murray, the
undeserving poor remain in
poverty because the welfare
state encourages them to
depend on state provision
• State provision is too generous
according to Murray and
creates “welfare dependency”
• This in turn does not provide
any incentive for the “feckless
poor” to provide for
• The concepts of the
“underclass” and “undeserving
poor” are highly controversial
• Most sociologists would
question whether these groups
exist at all
• These terms could be seen as
labels that “blame the victims”
for their own misfortunes
• They could be seen as
stigmatising people and
distancing them from society
• Unemployment can be seen as a
central issue in understanding the
causes of poverty
An economic recession means an
decrease in employment rates and
an increase in poverty
Unemployment is imposed upon
people rather than it being a
lifestyle choice
Benefits can be seen as too low.
By increasing benefits poverty
may be reduced
Summary Question
• Essay question (12 marks)
• To what extent does the culture of
Poverty explain why people live in poverty
in Britain today?