ARLINGTON, Massachusetts — There is a reason why social mobility is a necessary ingredient of poverty reduction. Without it and without the factors that promote growth of families and communities, the poor are more than likely to remain poor. Poverty abides by rules of momentum; once it is settled, it is difficult to shake, and generations of progeny can be marred by it.
The cycle of poverty, as it has been named by sociologists, humanitarians and others, describes the tendency of the poor to remain poor. This effect is typically irreversible when poverty has run through more than three generations of a family, unless, of course, the family is acted upon by outside forces such as aid groups.
After the three generation point of no return, families do not usually have any privileged relatives or friends who could impart intellectual, social and cultural capital, if not financial assistance. “Cultural capital” refers to any non-financial social asset that would promote upward social mobility. According to Pierre Bourdieu, a French sociologist, anthropologist, philosopher and intellectual, this includes three types of assets: embodied, objectified and institutionalized.
Embodied assets are things like highfalutin language and posh mannerisms; objectified assets could be scientific instruments and works of art; and institutionalized assets most often take the shape of education and academic credentials. Economic standing is not the only gauge of impoverishment. Without any access to these valuable advantages, a rise in societal status is nearly impossible.
Financial capital, cultural capital and power are transferred from generation to generation. Families become pigeonholed when all they are given is poverty and that’s all they have to pass on.
Other factors contributing to the vicious cycle of poverty include low productivity rates, low salary, low infrastructure, corrupt governance, business failure, ignorance, lack of skills, lack of technology, unhealthiness or disease, vulnerability to disaster, the inability to access resources such as land, finance, information and technical assistance and no means of attaining a good, ongoing education. What makes this index so dangerous is that every contributing factor to poverty it lists is also a consequence of poverty. Cue the cyclical motion.
This phenomenon, especially in regions of the world like Africa, can have violent undertones according to the defense analyst Helmoed-Römer Heitman, who says, “Until the cycle is broken, there is no prospect of bringing an end to insurgency, warlords, banditry, piracy, illegal logging and mining and smuggling. Breaking the cycle means starting and protecting small-scale rural development.”
To eliminate this kind of violence and break the cycle of poverty, Shai Reshef, the founder of University of the People, thinks he knows what to do. In a word, educate. University of the People is a nonprofit, accredited and tuition-free online school that has taught and empowered about 1,500 students.
“No one should be forced to have a repeated destiny based on a poor upbringing by denying a person the chance to attain a quality education,” Reshef says. “We can change the future of many through education, and help reverse the psychological, physical and social repercussions of being brought up in poverty.”
There are many avenues out of poverty, but many more leading back into its grasp. Without outside aid, impoverished families and individuals are never likely to feel security or comfort. Conversely, however, with some altruistic support, with educational opportunities granted to them, these people may finally rise from slumps spanning generations. This is why social mobility is so important.
– Adam Kaminski