“The language, beliefs, values, norms, behaviors, and the material objects that are possessed by people and are passed on from one generation to the next” is the usual definition of culture. Within the broad culture we also come across subcultures where a group displays distinct patterns of behavior and the related values, norms, beliefs, and material possessions. These subcultures may relate to an ethnic group, an occupational group, an age group, and even to a social class. Therefore, it can be assumed that each social class has a subculture with a system of behavior, a set of values, and a way of life.
The subculture of a social class serves to adapt people to the life style they lead and to prepare their children to assume their class status. The passing of sub-cultural patterns of behavior and the related values and norms to the next generation takes place through the process of socialization.
Notwithstanding with some overlapping and some exceptions, it remains true that the average middle class child has socialization very different from that of the average lower class child. Let us take just one aspect of socialization - those experiences that shape ambition, education, and work habits - and see how they differ between the two social class worlds.
Typical upper middle class children live in a class subculture where they are surrounded by educated persons who are ambitious, who go to work even when they don't feel like it, and who struggle to attain success. They are acquainted with the achievements of their ancestors, relatives, and friends. It is normal for them to assume that they too are going to accomplish something in the world.
When they go to school they find its culture close to their family culture. The teacher speaks similar language, the material in the books is reflective of their culture, and there are many other aspects of the environment that are familiar to the child.
“Study hard so you can do well and become a success someday”, the advice given by the teachers makes sense. Their parents echo the same words; meanwhile they see people like themselves (brothers, sisters, relatives, acquaintances) who are actually completing educations and moving on into promising careers. For most of the middle class children, to grow up means to complete an advanced education and launch a career.
Lower class children grow up in a class subculture where scarcely any one is educated, and has a steady job for long. In their world meals are haphazard and irregular. They marry early in age and usually have large number of children. Many people sleep three or four in a bed. These children are often not in school and if they do go to school, they often go unwashed and unfed. In school they are likely to be disoriented by coming across people coming from middle class families (the students and the teachers). Very soon they conclude that the school is a prison. They learn little. The school often abandons any serious effort to teach them by branding them as “discipline problems”. They receive little reinforcement for paying attention to studies. Even in the environment many children may be out of school, either doing nothing or engaged in some work. For them school may not be a stepping-stone to a career. Since school does not motivate them to study so they drop out early. The horizon of ambitions seldom extends the next week.
The children in varying social classes grow up in a different human capital as well as cultural capital. From growing up in a culture of poverty, the poor, in general, learn to accept theirpoverty. The poor expect failure, just as people born to affluence expect success. The expectation of failure can deprive the impoverished individuals of the confidence they need to spend their human capital. The expectation of success encourages affluent individuals to maximize their human capital.
As part of the socialization process, social class penetrates our consciousness, shaping our ideas of life and our proper place in society. When the rich look around, they sense superiority and control over destiny. In contrast, the poor see defeat, and a buffeting by unpredictable forces. People tend to see the effects of social class on their lives.
One consequence of facing emergency after emergency and not having enough resources to meet them - and seeing the future as more of the same - is the lack ofdeferred gratification,giving up things in the presentfor the sake of greater gains in the future. It is difficult to practice this middle class virtue if one does not have the surplus it requires. Any savings are gobbled up by the emergencies faced by the poor, so any saving for future was fruitless. The only thing that made sense from this perspective was to enjoy what they could at the moment. Immediate gratification was not the cause of their poverty, but its consequence. Cause and consequence loop together, for their immediate gratification, in turn, helped perpetuate their poverty.
Culture of poverty (concept given by Oscar Lewis in mid-sixties) assumes that the values and behaviors ofthe poor make them fundamentally different from other people that these factors largely are responsible for their poverty, and that parents perpetuate poverty across generations by passing these characteristics to their children. Poor form a subculture in which, as a result of their common experiences, they have developed certain attitudes and behavior patterns which have been transmitted from parent to child.
Critics of culture of poverty argue that the “expecting to fail” argument amount to blaming the victim. By blaming the poor for their own poverty, culture of poverty theories divert attention from the social, structural and cultural conditions that are ultimately responsible for poverty. Critics claim that the poor, in general tend to be as success-oriented as the affluent, if not for themselves then for their children. The difference between the poor and the affluent, therefore, lies mainly in their relative access to educational and occupational opportunities to demonstrate their human capital.
Look at yourself: Do culture of poverty / culture of affluence theories apply to any of the ways in which you have been advantaged or disadvantaged in your life choices and the life chances? To what extent has your social class background led you to expect success or to expect failure?