Devonomics

Devonomics

It is difficult to answer questions about how Nigeria can and should achieve sustainable economic, social and political growth. This column takes a look at well known development economic theories and applies them to the unique Nigerian context.

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Culture of Poverty: Why poor people remain poor

Martha Sambe

Martha Sambe

Martha is a graduate of Development Economics and International Cooperation from the University of Rome, Tor Vergata. She enjoys writing and researching topics in development, sociology, and religion.

Often, when Nigerians are asked to define culture, they say something along the lines of ‘culture is the way of life of a group of people’.

Whatever you perceive culture to be, you are unlikely to consider poverty as a way of life or a feature of culture; after all, poverty is something that happens to people, perhaps, because of market failure or government failure. To say that poverty is cultural would be implying that being poor is a way of life, and just how absurd would that be?

Apparently, not absurd enough because in 1959, anthropologist Oscar Lewis broke new ground in the study of poverty by essentially claiming that the cycle of poverty is maintained by an existing subculture among the poor. His idea was that poor people share certain cultural traits, termed the ‘culture of poverty', with a set of beliefs, values, and practices which served as guidelines for managing their state of poverty. Like other cultures, the culture of poverty, and consequently, poverty, were also passed from one generation to the other.

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