Poverty: The result of poor decisions?

Brittany Jordan
Brittany Jordan

It is conclusive and proven that those living at or below the poverty line have worse decision-making skills than those that do not have financial woes plaguing them. Poverty-stricken people are quicker to indulge in instant gratification, have been studied to have less self-control, and don’t plan for the future as much, as reported by the New York Times.

There is conclusive research to back up these claims, and the same results have been replicated time and time again. So the controversy is not whether or not these claims are true, but instead ascertaining which perpetuates which.

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That is to say: are poor people poor because they make bad decisions, or does poverty make people poorer decision-makers?

And the answer will vary depending on who you ask.

Liberals would say that poverty causes harmful behaviors. This sounds all well and good; we like to think that poverty is never the fault of those that it affects. We would like to think that the poor decision making skills come after someone has been declared impoverished.

However, there are some behaviors that the liberal view can’t account for. Take, for instance, the availability of health foods. It has been a long assumption that it is both more expensive and more inconvenient to eat healthy, and that is why those with lower socioeconomic status have to partake in the unhealthier food choices. It’s hard to beat being able to get a double cheeseburger for a dollar when it’s a miracle and a half to get out of Whole Foods for under $50.

However, aid programs have gone a long way to be able to give those without expendable cash flow access to healthier food choices. But what they can’t do is get people to partake of them.

It is proven that even given access to better food, poor people are far less likely to take advantage of them. Is this a matter of personal taste, or because they aren’t thinking ahead to the health risks that haunt those that make poor culinary decisions?

So even when it costs them absolutely nothing, impoverished people still make poorer choices. This would lead to the belief that some of those at or below the poverty line are in that economic group because of poor decisions that they made earlier, which happens to be the belief that many conservatives hold today.

As for me, I think that when you live in a certain socioeconomic status, that soon affects your entire identity. It affects how you think about money, how you choose to raise your family and even how you choose to present yourself. I think that the decisions people make have far more to do with having to go without many things for so long than just having an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex.

There’s a name for this: scarcity. When people are confronted with the thought that they will have to cut back, it affects how they think about everything. Which can lead them to make bad decisions, which then perpetuates the cycle of poverty.

I also think that the people conducting these studies on “poor people” have probably never known what it’s like to be poor a day in their life. They make hypotheses on people that they have never deigned to actually spend a day in the life of.

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So no, I don’t think that either liberals or conservatives have it right when it comes to poverty. You’d have to be impoverished in order to have any idea what it’s like.

I can’t make any hypotheses as to why the decisions that those below the poverty line are deemed “less than acceptable” because I don’t know what it’s like to be that level of poor in the USA. But I can tell you, after giving food and shelter to those living in a city dump in a border town of Mexico, that the people we deem as poor have more in other areas than the rest of us ever will. They have faith, they have family, they know what it’s like to have nothing but each other. They are rich in more ways than we up here on our ivory tower will ever be.

So before we try to decide whether decisions lead to poverty, or whether poverty leads to decisions, let’s live on a couple dollars a day first. Let’s know what it’s like to be poor, because that opens a lot of doors. And maybe, once you know what that’s like, you can understand that sometimes wealth doesn’t stem from your bank account.

Brittany Jordan is a junior psychology major. Feedback of all varieties can be sent to letters@collegian.com.