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Concept of Cultural Poverty by Oscar Lewis | When poverty is transmitted over generations it becomes a culture | Indian History | General Studies I


  • Concept of Cultural Poverty by Oscar Lewis
  • When poverty is transmitted over generations it becomes a culture. Elucidate. (UPPSC 2022)

Concept of Cultural Poverty by Oscar Lewis:

Oscar Lewis ( American anthropologist) introduced the concept of "cultural poverty" in his anthropological research during the 1960s. Cultural poverty refers to the set of values, beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes that can perpetuate poverty across generations within certain socio-economic groups or communities. 

Oscar Lewis argued that individuals living in poverty often develop a specific subculture characterized by traits such as fatalism, immediate gratification, and a lack of future-oriented goals.

Oscar Lewis's theory suggested that this cultural poverty, with its unique patterns of behavior and attitudes, can hinder social mobility and economic advancement. It's important to note that this concept has been criticized for potentially blaming the poor for their circumstances rather than addressing systemic issues, and it's not universally accepted in the field of sociology and anthropology.


When poverty is transmitted over generations it becomes a culture. Elucidate.

(UPPSC Mains General Studies-I/GS- 2022)


When poverty is transmitted over generations, it becomes a culture, this concept is also known as "cultural Poverty" or  "generational poverty ", which was given by famous American Anthropologist, Mr. Oscar Lewis. 

The concept of Cultural poverty suggests that when families or communities experience poverty for multiple generations, certain patterns, behaviors, and attitudes related to poverty can become deeply ingrained within the culture of that group. 

Here's an elucidation of this concept:

Socioeconomic Traps: 

When individuals and families experience persistent poverty, they often face limited access to education, job opportunities, and resources. Over generations, poor people don't aspire to get these resources, as their habits become a culture of living with very limited resources.

Limited Aspirations:

In generational poverty, there may be a sense of hopelessness and limited aspirations for upward mobility. When individuals grow up witnessing their parents and grandparents struggling with poverty, they may develop a belief that poverty is their inevitable destiny.

Norms and Values: 

Communities experiencing generational poverty may develop unique norms and values related to survival in challenging circumstances. These can include a reliance on informal networks for support, adaptability in making the most of limited resources, and a focus on immediate needs rather than long-term planning.

Lack of Access to Education:

Educational opportunities are often limited for individuals in impoverished communities. Without access to quality education, individuals may lack the skills and knowledge needed to break the cycle of poverty.

Limited Social Capital: 

Generational poverty can lead to limited social capital, meaning individuals have few connections or networks that can help them access opportunities or resources. This further perpetuates their economic disadvantage.

Limited Exposure: 

People in generational poverty may have limited exposure to alternative ways of life or different socioeconomic realities. This limited exposure can restrict their ability to envision and pursue different paths.

It's important to note that describing poverty as a "culture" in this context does not imply that individuals or communities choose to remain in poverty or that they are inherently responsible for their circumstances. Rather, it highlights how systemic factors and a lack of opportunities can perpetuate poverty across generations, leading to the development of distinct patterns and attitudes within affected communities.

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