TOWARD A REVISED FRAMEWORK FOR EXAMINING BELIEFS ABOUT THE CAUSES OF POVERTY

Authors


*Direct all correspondence to George Wilson, Sociology, University of Miami, Ferre Building Room 123, Miami, FL 33124.

Abstract

This study uses survey data from Baltimore, Maryland to assess predictions from the dominant ideology thesis and the public arenas theory concerning causal beliefs about three specific types of poverty—welfare dependency, homelessness and impoverished migrant laborers. Findings indicate that the incidence and determinants of causal beliefs are more complex than has been reached in prior “generic’ poverty research and the findings provide greater support for the public arenas theory. Three findings are of particular note: (1) sample respondents have distinctive causal beliefs for different types of poverty: for welfare dependency, individualistic beliefs are dominant; for homelessness, structural causes are emphasized; a causal “middle ground’ is most popular for impoverished migrant laborers (2) status characteristics do not operate as determinants of causal beliefs in a straightfor-ward fashion for any of the three poverty types and, (3) variables that measure types of exposure to, and perceived racial composition of, the poor are also significant determinants of causal beliefs. The effects of variables that measure perceived racial composition are particularly strong and the pattern of “color coding’ suggests that racial prejudice shapes causal beliefs about the plight of the poor. The implications of the findings for the mobility opportunities of the three impoverished groups are discussed.

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