On Being Poor and Feeling Poor: Low Socioeconomic Status and the Moral Self
Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 2002; 23(6): 455-470
Persons of low socioeconomic status generally experience worse health and shorter lives than their better off counterparts. They also suffer a greater incidence of adverse psychosocial characteristics, such as low self-esteem, self-efficacy, and self-mastery and increased cynicism and hostility. These population data suggest another category of harm to persons: diminished moral agency. Chronic socioeconomic deprivation can create environments that undermine the development of self and capacities constitutive to moral agency-- i.e., the capacity for self-determination and crafting a life of one's own. The harm affects not only the choices a person makes, but the chooser herself. This moral harm is particularly salient in modern Western societies, especially in the United States, where success and failure is attributed to the individual, with little notice of the larger social and political realities that inform an individual's circumstances and choices.
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