Culture Affects Poverty
Poverty is a universal issue. It affects people of every nation, religion and culture. Though global inequality has been decreasing in recent decades, many countries still stand at an advantage over others, and in many cases, are in a better position to help.

It is difficult to guarantee effectiveness in a foreign country by virtue of it being foreign. The way the government or people behave will differ. Even the general mindset toward poverty can vary—and these are important differences to note. Culture impacts poverty’s manifestation and means of escape.

These cultural differences continue to exist on an international scale. Culture affects poverty both directly in the way it interacts with poverty, and indirectly, with the conditions that stimulate or prevent poverty. Many of the critical factors focus on a culture’s standard for family structure.

Children are More Likely to Live in Poverty

Children are most likely to live in poverty. If approached per capita, children below 11-years-old in developing countries are nearly 10 percent more likely to live in poverty than the international average. In contrast, the elderly are 10 percent less likely to live in poverty.

There are similar numbers across the globe. In Sub-Saharan Africa, where the poverty rate averages 54.6 percent, children between six and 11-years-old are 62.7 percent likely to live in poverty, while those of 65-years-old stands at 47.9 percent.

The Middle East and Northern Africa have the lowest rates of child poverty. Mirza Izmagilov Makhmutov, former Minister of Education of Tatarstan, describes Eastern culture as being more family-oriented with a focus on upholding history and tradition, compared to Western culture, which places emphasis on science and the individual. Though she describes this rule as unattractive to most young people, it may hold ground in lessening child and elderly poverty in the Middle East.

This is not to dismiss economic factors. Poverty rates drop with even moderate economies of scale—that is, the more production in a country, the more efficiently its society runs. Countries with economies of scale tend to have fewer children in a household.

Single Parents are at a Disadvantage

Though it is difficult to isolate the causes of single parents’ likeliness to live in poverty, as they are often closely entangled with a lesser education and intergenerational poverty, single parents are more likely to live in poverty than their married or cohabiting counterparts. In the U.K., a child’s likelihood of being in the bottom quintile of income is 21 percent for married parents, 31 percent for cohabiting families and 81 percent for single parents.

While the U.K’.s rate of single parents has grown over the last few decades, as the gap in poverty between single and married parents decreases, people still largely look down on single parenthood in Asia.

Globally in 2012, 13.7 percent of children below 15 lived in single-parent households. In Japan and Korea, 12.3 percent and 8.9 percent of children respectively lived in single-parent households, compared to in the U.K. and the U.S., with a respective 20.7 percent and 16.7 percent.

On average, 15 percent of children in Japan live in poverty. For children of single mothers, this increases to 55 percent. Yukiko Tokumaru, who runs Child Action Poverty Osaka, a non-governmental organization, describes Japan as having a culture that places women below men, making it difficult for a woman to have a job after a child.

Yasuko Kawabe, who runs the Nishinari Kids Dining Hall in Osaka, describes the children as needing more than food when they come to her center. At school, the children often find themselves isolated from their peers because their peers consider them to be from a “bad house.” Mothers, too, do not receive pressure to look wealthy at the Hall. According to Junko Terauchi, head of the Osaka Social Welfare Promotional Council, there is massive pressure on single or poor mothers, with women going so far as to hide separations from their partners from friends and coworkers.

Though hope often feels far away for these Japanese women, change seems to be on the horizon. Japanese President Abe Shinzo aims to provide work for women, especially those returning to the workforce after giving birth. Daycare centers in Osaka and other cities offer free meals and playtime for children.

Globally, there is increasing aid for single parents, and there is decreasing global inequality. Culture and wealth gradually exchange. There are no clear-cut means of determining if any culture is more effective at dealing with poverty than another. Rather, culture affects poverty by determining the behavior of poverty in a nation. Culture affects poverty on many levels—in determining government support, in the way it changes the standard family structure and in wealthy treatment of the poor.

– Katie Hwang
Photo: Flickr