SOC 100 – Introduction to Sociology
February 28, 2014
Poverty is the lack of material wealth or income needed to meet basic human needs. Poverty is a widespread social issue affecting both developing and developed countries but it is also one of the least understood one. Poverty statistics collected from around the world have shown that Scandinavian countries such as Sweden or Denmark have considerably lower poverty statistics than the US. This can be attributed to greater government interference in the form of highly subsidized education and healthcare in these countries. On the other hand, it can also be attributed to the personal characteristics of people living in these countries who are inherently the most hard-working people in Europe (Praut, 2011). The author tends to agree with the former view that the persistent levels of poverty and reduced social mobility are the result of unfair policies and situational factors such as a lack of access to quality education and social stratification. The purpose of this paper is to carry out a sociological investigation of poverty. The author will start by discussing how poverty fits into the field of sociology and what is known and unknown about it. Then the author will move to discuss the value of sociological research to the issue of poverty.
Sociology is the field of interaction between individual agency and social structures (Ashley & Orenstein, 2005). In other words, it involves study of social classes, stratification, mobility, etc. and how they are affected by human behavior and outlook. Poverty is sociologically significant because it not only influences the quality of life that an individual can live, but also affects the quality of relationship one can have (Andersen & Taylor, 2008). For example, lack of housing denies a person basic rights to privacy. This affects their ability to have a stable relationship which adversely affects their public behavior which is a sociological concern.
Poverty can also affect one’s outlook towards life and other people. If poor people do not get access to quality education and hence high paying jobs, they are likely to seek alternative methods to overcome these structural barriers. It may include getting involved with ‘criminal’ activities such as drug trafficking, prostitution, etc. Various studies have shown that poverty is closely interlinked with high crime rates which influence cultural practices (Miller, 2008). Thus, how poverty forces people to overcome apathy and fight for their rights which other people take for granted makes for an important sociological study.
Before discussing how sociological study can contribute towards alleviation of poverty, one must understand what is known and unknown about poverty. Poverty is widely characterized as lack of access to basic human needs such as healthcare, education, housing and food. Thus, it is no surprise that poverty is known to be closely related to other issues such as unemployment, illiteracy and hunger. It is known that earth’s resources are very limited and it is not possible to provide basic human needs to all the people. Poverty statistics collected from around the world have made it possible to compare relative poverty levels across the world (Praut, 2011). It is known that countries in the Western Europe and the US have relatively low poverty levels while countries in Asia and Africa have very high poverty levels.
Unfortunately, what we know about poverty is like tip of the iceberg. No one exactly knows what is meant by poverty and what causes is. Poverty is extremely difficult to measure and compare across nations due to wide differences in cultural and social factors such as living standards and purchasing power. For example, a person earning less than $10/day is considered poor in the US but can live quite comfortably in any African nation. It is also not possible to differentiate between forced poverty