Status Drives Poverty?

A book on poor single moms, discussing why moms break up with guys:

Conflicts over money do not usually erupt simply because the man cannot find a job or because he doesn’t earn as much as someone with better skills or education.  Money usually becomes an issue because he seems unwilling to keep at a job for any length of time, usually because of issues related to respect.  Some of the jobs he can get don’t pay enough to give him the self-respect he feels he needs, and others require him to get along with unpleasant customers and coworkers, and to maintain a submissive attitude toward the boss. (more; HT Bryan)

I suspect much of what makes some cultures more successful than others is how they help folks to avoid seeing unpleasant interactions as direct challenges to their status.

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  • DrLiberty

    The state of mind discussed in the book is analagous to narcissitic personality disorder in the psychoanalytic framework. I wonder if any work has been done on the influence of culture on the incidence and prognosis of narcissistic personality disorder. It might offer a way to confirm your suspicion.

    • lemmy caution

      If narcissism means “someone who doesn’t want to be a fry cook at McDonalds”, then I am a narcissist.

  • Jordan Viray

    Could you give some examples of how other cultures aid in separating unpleasant interactions from status challenges? It’s not something I’ve really thought of before.

    • http://theviewfromhell.blogspot.com Sister Y

      A caste system might fit the bill – dividing people into groups that only compete for status with each other, and are institutionally prevented from competing with each other or interacting with each other except in prescribed ways.

      • David

        A clear explanation of why India did so much better historically than it is doing today!

    • Scott H.

      I can tell you an example…

      You are in a meeting as a manager. Your group is in the meeting. There is also another manager in the meeting along with his/her group. During the meeting the other manager says things which are annoying to you and perhaps a status challenge to you.

      In the United States after the meeting your group members might say. “Boy, that guy was a jerk.” The issue becomes the other manager’s problem.

      In Latin America your group member would most likely say, “Boy, that guy was disrespecting you.” The dynamic of that comment changes everything. Now you must confront the other manager as challenging your status. The onus is on you because leaders must take action against a show of disrespect.

      Basically, the whole US culture separates unpleasant interactions from status challenges very well. You will be surprised how other cultures DON’T do it. In fact, as Americans, we see them as reveling in their status challenges.

      Talk to an Arab about the word “humiliation” some time and see what an important concept that is to them in their daily lives. What American thinks about humiliation?

      • Jonas

        Having worked overseas, I think this is a great point. It’s one of the unheralded strengths of US team work culture. It allows a lot more fluid horizontal team structures rather than a caste system or other more rigid vertical structures.

    • http://un-thought.blogspot.com/ Floccina

      The boss saying please. Manors.

    • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

      These are lots of good examples; thanks to all.

    • Jeffrey Soreff

      Within the programming subculture within the US, one helpful institution is
      treating bug reports as routine matters, rather than as status challenges.

    • y81

      Telling people that they are the chosen people, and that God loves them so long as they don’t let meat and milk mix (along with a thousand other rituals), is very psychologically comforting and enables them to endure the scorn of their neighbors when they engage in the mercantile and financial disputes their neighbors despise, and to endure patiently the occasional despoiling by the local princes, rather than feeling compelled to rise in futile rebellion.

  • Dave

    Does uselessness signal low status? Yes.

    In America out of wedlock children used to be considered shameful in all communities. Due to meager welfare payments and low public medical and educational support children had to be supported by the parents, or charity, period. Moms worked as domestics and dads worked in “menial “jobs.

    Since these provided but meager resources, liberals had an idea. Welfare would bring an end to poverty. The Book as reviewed by shows a sensible, non- oppositional description of the resulting calamity.

    Frankly, I wouldn’t have predicted it. You would think that people would be grateful to the government. Instead a dysfunctional matriarchy ensued. Men were entirely dispensable, becoming childlike mentally yet dangerous physically. Does uselessness signal low status? Yes. Of course there was much dysfunction before the time of the welfare state, but the welfare system was supposed to cure this. It made it worse.

    Solution? If jobs don’t pay well enough, make it pay by giving income credits. That way dad is as important as mom. Don’t encourage the woman to be the head of the family. If dad spends his money on drugs, too bad. What would happen if you did it? Establish educational academies for young children. If none of this works stop it and try something else. Don’t allow behemoth ineffective programs to become self-perpetuating. Is this possible? Probably not.

  • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

    Uselessness does not signal low status.

    Terri Schaivo was not low status, even though for all intents and purposes she was “useless” (but I recognize “useless” is in the eye of the beholder). She was in a persistent vegetative state and yet the Florida Legislature and Governor, intervened to interfere with her medical care.

    Later when that failed to achieve the results her parents wanted, the US Congress and Senate passed and GWB signed legislature moving jurisdiction to Federal Courts.

    Special laws being enacted on the behalf of a single individual by the Florida Legislature and the US Government are not signs of low status.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terri_Schaivo

    If she had low status, she would have died back in 1990.

    • http://theviewfromhell.blogspot.com Sister Y

      Foot binding
      Fashion models
      Tiny dogs
      Philosophy degrees
      Peacock feathers

      Uselessness has signaled high status for much longer than American women have been having dinner on the table when Daddy gets home. <3

      • PJF

        The status there accrues far more to the possessor of the objects you list than to the objects themselves.

      • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

        I see, yes you are right. Those who were trying to acquire Terry Schaivo were trying to acquire high status by posessing something as useless as a body in a PVS and not by the status of the body.

      • PJF

        I was referring to Sister Y’s list; these “useless” objects are not genuinely useless, since their possession conveys information about the possessor. Similarly, Terry Schaivo was not “useless”; at a minimum, individuals could, and did, use her existence to demonstrate their own ideological affiliations. The husbands in question are apparently not even as useful as that, and so I’m not sure I see the relevance of Terry Schaivo to Robin’s post.

  • Todd

    I think the problem is that you’re assuming that these men don’t have their status lowered by outside forces. Men of a certain level don’t mind crappy jobs because they know they have status elsewhere. However, if a guy doesn’t have that status from elsewhere and can’t get it at work, well…you see the results. :)

  • http://fundingyouranalyst.blogspot.com fundingyouranalyst

    It seems like anyone could take an unpleasant situation as an affront to their status, but the other person’s status (whether s/he has to be taken seriously by others or not), the fit between the unpleasant message and the reason for status (are you insulting something about the way I gained status; are you doing it effectively?), whether an audience was present, and of course, whether those involved were just involved in direct competition and suffer ego fatigue, all play a role in how to read the situation as personal or not.

  • http://theviewfromhell.blogspot.com Sister Y

    One thing that’s relevant here is the research on social belonging and social pain. We might expect social pain (from a status insult) to be rational, but it’s not. For instance, subjects experience pain and lowered mood as a consequence of social ostracism even when they are explicitly told that it is merely a computer doing the “ostracizing.” The pain of exclusion affects even people playing a computer ball game who are TOLD their computers are not yet connected to the other computers, making inclusion logically impossible! Even ostracism by a despised outgroup – say, the KKK – induces the same misery as ostracism by other groups.

    • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

      Of course it hurts, that is the whole point of status, to hurt those with low status. If it didn’t hurt the people with low status, the people with high status wouldn’t maintain the status disparities.

      That is one of the problems with wealth as a status symbol. You can never have enough status, but if the only way to get wealth is by taking it from low status individuals, and you take so much that they can’t survive, the seekers of high status still do it, and don’t care if the low status individuals can’t survive. Of course it hurts, that is the whole point of status, to hurt those with low status. If it didn’t hurt the people with low status, the people with high status wouldn’t maintain the status disparities.

      That is one of the problems with wealth as a status symbol. You can never have enough status, but if the only way to get wealth is by taking it from low status individuals, and you take so much that they can’t survive, the seekers of high status still do it, and don’t care if the low status individuals can’t survive.

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  • http://www.andreasmoser.wordpress.com Andreas Moser

    Maybe women want to earn their own income?

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