Why poor?

Studying poverty from a multidimensional and multidisciplinary point of view is probably the best way to do it. The Evaluation Research Group has focused on a psychological topic, the causal attributions for poverty, to better understand the phenomenon and to suggest tailored interventions.

Why poor? This is one of the questions that the Evaluation Research Group (ERG) has asked, aiming not only at “describing” poverty condition (“You are poor if you don’t have a sufficient income”; “You are poor if you don’t have a home”; “You are poor if you are not even able to plan to have a home”), but also to investigate people’s perception of its causes: “Why people become poor? Which are the factors determining the impoverishment?”. As it emerges in specific literature, there are two main kinds of factors more frequently mentioned: individual factors (“He is poor because of a lack of personal commitment”) and structural/fatalistic factors (“He is poor because of economic system/bad luck”). One of our hypotheses, confirmed by our research work, is that groups of people with specific characteristics tend to prefer particular kinds of explanation of the phenomenon: i.e. it has emerged that women, mainly prefer structural explanations for poverty unlike men. Next step consists in understanding reasons of these differences and, on the other side, in hypothesizing more complex profiles, obtained by combining different characteristics (i.e. male & wealthy respondents). Work in progress!

Does the fact of being distant from the investigated phenomenon influence the explanation respondents give about poverty? We have focused on this aspect by using two different questions: “In your opinion, what can lead SOMEONE to poverty?” and “In your opinion what can lead YOU to poverty?”. Interesting results have emerged from analyses: i.e. it seems that self-employed workers prefer individual explanations both referring to themselves and for others; it’s the same for younger respondents. In both cases, distance seems to be not influent; but in other cases results are different: it has emerged, for example, that elder people seem to prefer individual explanations when referring to others, whereas prefer structural ones when referring about themselves.

Besides perception of impoverishing factors, our research work is focused on other aspects: it is focused in looking for innovative and more adequate indicators to describe this phenomenon, for example referring to aims people have and to the chance they perceive to achieve them; or if women are more vulnerable to poverty and why. These are more questions in addition to the ones related to causal attributions; but they are all focused in building a theory of poverty taking into account also psychological aspects of people – opinions and perceptions – both if they are poor or not.

 Contacs: Antonella Rissotto and Maurizio Norcia

 ISTC Group: Evaluation Research Group

 Relevant publications

Norcia, M., Rissotto, A. (2011). Why poor? Representations and causal attributions for poverty. WELL-BEING 2011: The First International Conference Exploring the Multi-dimensions of Well-being. University of Birmingham. Birmingham (UK), 18-19 July.

Norcia, M., Rissotto, A. (2011). Poverty and Wealth: Aims, Difficulties and Belief. International Conference On Social Sciences. The Social Sciences Research Society. Izmir (TUR), 8-9 October.

Norcia, M., Rissotto, A., (2010). The process of causal attribution for poverty: preliminary results of a survey in Italy. International Society for the Study of Behavioural Development 2012 Biennial Meeting. Lusaka (ZAM), 18-22 July.