Sociology, Department of


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Published in Social Problems 21 (1973), pp. 621–634. Copyright © 1973 by the Society for the Study of Social Problems, Inc. Published by the University of California Press. Used by permission.


In this paper we briefly review relevant research on the culture of poverty and set our findings within the general context of culture of poverty arguments. Data from a community survey in a Southwestern city are analyzed using Oscar Lewis’ four major culture of poverty dimensions: 1) the individual, 2) the family, 3) the slum community, and 4) the community’s relation to society. In our study a sample of 271 black respondents was divided into two groups, here termed the “poor” and the “non-poor.” In noting all the broad traits studied in all dimensions taken together, some support for Lewis’ culture of poverty was found in less than half of the cases; and in several cases our findings were in direct opposition to culture of poverty predictions. In addition, we have suggested that the majority of those traits that did lend support to Lewis’ argument might be better classified as situational conditions of poverty rather than as a part of a bona fide “culture” of poverty. The findings of this paper may call into question the use of the “culture of poverty” perspective as a basis for policy decisions.

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