Friday, February 09, 2018

Culture and Health: Part 2

In my previous post, I discussed how many Americans believe that a wealth is earned through hard work and poverty is a consequence of laziness. This cultural view implies that if the poor worked more diligently they could become wealthy. It doesn't matter if a person grew up in a disadvantaged community where a good education, healthcare, nutrition and housing were tough to come by, or if s/he was born into wealth privilege where those opportunities were abundant and easily accessible. All that really matters is one's effort. And since poor people's laziness is a personal failing, they do not deserve social and economic programs such as welfare; after all, it's their own fault they are poor. All they have to do is stop being lazy and they would get a good paying jobs that would bring them out of poverty. This includes the working poor...they just have to work harder.

So, as I understand this way of thinking, the assumption is that poor people don't mind being poor because it's easier than hard work. Sure, they'll probably die younger from disease, violence, poor nutrition, pollution and the like. Sure, they can't afford to travel for pleasure, go to fine restaurants, see Broadway shows, buy nice clothes, purchase a home in a good neighborhood, make investments and watch their money grow, etc. Sure, they might have to live in fear of lives, confront gang violence, grow up in broken families, have a history of being ridiculed, experience prejudice, become disheartened and hopeless, etc. But these things don't really matter to people in poor communities since they can take comfort and rejoice in being lazy. The joys of doing nothing productive--not earning a degree, not going to work and earning a good living--are so wonderful that the pain of poverty means nothing to them...they actually welcome it!

Is my understanding of poverty accurate? Am I missing something? If a few people come out of poverty, does it mean everyone in their community can if they just try hard enough? Is thie a logical view of reality?

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

How our Culture Influences Health

Things a culture considers important strongly influence the health of its people. Some cultures promote beliefs and values that adversely affect the health and well-being of people in certain communities. For example, in a culture that equates the degree of a person’s worthwhileness and deservingness with one’s material wealth, power, status and race is likely to judge poor, weak, “lower class” people of color as unworthy and undeserving and treat them accordingly. Conversely, it would be unlikely for people in a culture that values the virtues of empathy and self-sacrifice for the common good to judge others as less worthy and deserving.

One recent survey found that the U.S. “…public overall is about evenly divided over which has more to do with why a person is rich: 45% say it is because he or she worked harder than most people, while 43% say it is because they had more advantages in life than others.” The results differed by respondents’ income, educational level and party affiliation.

Likewise, many believe that people are poor because they have personality characteristics such as laziness, which is a personal failure that results in poverty. They believe that people who are worthy are rewarded, so those who fail to reap rewards must lack self-worth. This meritocratic view is entrenched within U.S. thought and results in resistance to social and economic programs such as welfare. After all, the belief that a poor person’s lack of prosperity shows a personal failing means that s/he should not be rewarded by public benefits.
Are these beliefs valid? Is it true that people in poor communities don't have adequate nutrition, healthcare, housing, etc. because they have in-born personality flaws that prevent them from getting a decent job and living a healthy lives? Are they just getting what they deserve?

Or should our society do more to help improve the social and economic conditions of disadvantaged communities that deny people healthy lives? Should we, for example, consider social determinants of health--such as good healthcare, nutrition and education--to be a right for all?