Race/Ethnicity and Beliefs about Wealth and Poverty


  • *Direct correspondence to Matthew O. Hunt, Department of Sociology, 500 Holmes Hall, Northeastern University, Boston, MA 02115 〈m.hunt@neu.edu〉. Data and coding materials are available on request from the author for purposes of replication. Thanks are due to Larry L. Hunt, Brian Powell, Lauren A. Wise, and three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions, and to Richard T. Serpe and Michael Harrod for their assistance in data collection.


Objective. Lay explanations for “wealth” have been neglected in research on beliefs about social stratification. This study compares the nature and determinants of beliefs about the causes of both wealth and poverty, with special focus on race/ethnic differences.

Methods. Using survey data collected from Los Angeles County residents in 2000, descriptive and multivariate procedures are used to analyze “individualistic” and “structuralist” beliefs about wealth and poverty. In addition, one “fatalistic” belief, asking about the role of “God's will” in shaping wealth and poverty, is examined. Analyses test (1) whether race/ethnicity and other social and political characteristics variables shape these stratification beliefs, and (2) whether African Americans, Latinos, and whites differ in the determinants of beliefs about wealth and poverty.

Results. Respondents favor individualistic over structuralist reasons for wealth, but favor structuralist over individualistic beliefs in explaining poverty. Fatalistic beliefs are least popular. On beliefs about wealth, African Americans, Latinos, and whites show similar levels of support for individualistic explanations; however, the race/ethnic minorities are both more structuralist than whites on this issue. On beliefs about poverty, the race/ethnic minorities are simultaneously more structuralist and more individualistic than are whites. Social-class identification and self-reported conservatism both significantly impact beliefs about wealth and poverty, and do so differently across race/ethnic lines.

Conclusions. Findings support the separate treatment and examination of beliefs about wealth and poverty, and reinforce recent calls for greater attention to “nonwhites” in studies of sociopolitical attitudes.