Sociological Views of Poverty

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Sociological Views of Poverty
Michelle Williams-Thomas
Sociology 101
Professor Yelena Gidenko
February 12, 2012

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the most common reasons people died were accidents or communicable diseases like pneumonia. Today, millions die each day from poverty. How can poverty be defined? And what is the difference between absolute and relative poverty? In the paper I will address these issues along with sociological views of poverty. Poverty is a social issue that affects the world. Poverty causes many to be malnourished and die at a young age, it is a cause of deviant behavior such as crime, and also causes the poor to be marginalized from society and have little voice in public and political debate causing individuals to remain in poverty. Poverty is a condition of people who lack adequate income and wealth. Whereas absolute poverty is individuals live without adequate food, clothing, water or shelter. In other words the little money they make is not enough to provide these necessary materials of life.

The United Nations defines absolute poverty as living on less than $1 a day, which equates to over one billion people, or about one–fifth of the world's population, falling in that category. The poorest part of the world is now in Sub–Saharan Africa. According to Thomas Malthus the amount of land, food, and water was fixed; there could be no more of these natural resources than what was available. As the population increased in size, it would eventually outstrip the environment's ability to sustain them (Malthus, 1798). This would result in poverty, misery, and famine for the peoples of the world. His premise has become known as the Malthusian trap. In 2009 over 1 billion people, or 16% of the world's population, were at risk of starvation, and that number has increased steadily in recent years (Thurow & Kilman, 2009).

While some people say that lack of food is the reason for hunger, food scholars argue that there is enough food to feed the world—the problem is unequal distribution (Anderson & Taylor, 2009). Poverty is strongly associated with hunger and malnutrition, since many of the peoples in the world cannot afford food when they live on a dollar a day. The World Health Organization estimates that 800 million people are malnourished, which leads to preventable disease, disability, and death. Even when food is made available, it may not get into the hands of the people who need it. Poor nations often lack the distribution systems to get aid to the people, as was shown during the 2010 environmental problems in Haiti. (Vissing, 2011) Every thirty-three seconds, a baby is born into poverty. One in six children in America is poor. Black and Latino children are about three times as likely to be poor as White children. Almost 5.8 million children live in extreme poverty. Young children are more likely to live in extreme poverty than are older children. Infant mortality rates are higher, meaning there are more deaths, among babies who are born into poverty stricken homes and cultures. In wealthier societies, people live longer than in poor societies. Mortality rates are strongly related to life expectancy.

From a functionalist perspective, poverty must somehow contribute to the general well-being of society. Perhaps the existence of poverty serves as an incentive, encouraging everyone to work harder than they otherwise might, so as to avoid becoming poor, and thereby boosting the general level of wealth. Functionalists regard the effective operation of society as dependent on the health and well-being of its citizens. It is incumbent, therefore, on a society to make sure that the needs of the people are met. When an individual or family is in poverty it can lead to abuse and violence in the home. One will blame the other for the condition they are in leading to confusion, broken homes and children who are left behind for...
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