The concept of poverty can be viewed from different points and aspects. One can have nothing according to general standards and still consider himself the happiest or the richest person in the world. In some way poverty is a personal issue and each one of us has a personal definition of it depending on the class we are in, personal values and way of life. What is a lot to someone can be nothing to the rest of the society. There is also an opinion that rich people keep on getting wealthier and the situation of those poor just gets worse with time. It might be due to the inner world and attitude of a person.
There are many theories, mainly individualistic which tend to identify the main causes of poverty as being within the individuals themselves, or in the characteristics of the subculture to which they belong.
Oscar Lewis, a sociologist who illustrates one of these theories, â€œthe culture of povertyâ€, argues that the poor are part of a class stratified society and this culture develops in response as they are trapped in their poverty. It is a reaction to the poor of their marginal position in society. In effect it is the characteristics of this culture that perpetuates poverty. Also on the family level, due to high rates of abuse and divorce, individuals tended to be more mother centred hence society was mainly matriarchal. Furthermore, on the community level, individuals tended to have negative attitudes towards national (external) agencies, for example; political parties, trade unions, etc and also very little use was made of banks, hospitals, etc by these individuals. These values were internalised and passed on from generation to generation.
This theory therefore provides evidence that if the poor adapted a more positive culture, then there would be no absolute poverty in society since everyone would have enough to attain a better standard of living which would therefore cause less public spending on the provision of benefits since everyone would have enough to physically survive. This in effect would eradicate poverty to an extent.
On the other hand this theoretical explanation fails to account for the fact that the existence of poverty could be caused by another source other than the individuals themselves. This other source to be considered would be society. It may not be so obvious straightaway, but it depends on how it is assessed. Lack of employment, low wages, social stratification etc. which are caused by society are different ways and means through which society could make situations or living unbearable for individuals. This thereby causes them to adapt to this subculture thus perpetuating poverty in the society.
This view is further supported with evidence from the work of Elliot Liebow (a sociologist), who argues in favour of the fact that it is society that causes poverty and not individuals. He proves this from research he carried out among Black men in Washington, where he realised that they did accept mainstream values but because of their situational constraints of being poor they never succeeded in accomplishing these mainstream values.
Also, as argued by other sociologist, if you were born into a deprived background, i.e. poor housing, poor diet etc., it was very difficult to escape this cycle. Hence you would go through this cycle into adulthood and it might continue through your children, which puts no end to the cycle. Thus it could be said that it is social, economic and environmental factors that prevents the poor behaving.
In conclusion, evidence provided above may justify the fact that poverty is caused by the individuals themselves within society but from the other side of the coin, this may be far from the truth.