The Impacts of Poverty on Personality - Gaias Homes

The Impacts of Poverty on Personality

 In Psycology, Society and Culture

Does Poverty affect personality development ?


Eric Fromm said that ”Man’s main task in life is to give birth to himself, to become what he potentially is. The most important product of his effort is his own personality”

Fromm believed that an individual’s purpose in life to is to come fully into themselves so that they may be able to exceed their expectations. Fully coming into oneself comes from growing into one’s personality. Personality is the combination of behaviors, emotions and thought patterns that define an individual or make up their character. Over the course of our lives we go through many changes. Changes that makes us stand taller or our voices grow deeper. Changes that happen on the inside and on the outside. Throughout the course of our lives our behaviors change and develop into habits that shape our very personalities that can lead us into success or prove to be a seemingly permanent obstacle on the path to success.

These behaviors either change for the good or bad carry over into our older years as our personalities change. Our personalities dictate who we connect with and get along with, they are central to the way we go through and experience through the world in many different experiences. There is no personality that ensures success for anyone but what if the environment influences or fosters a certain type of personality? Can someone truly be a product of their upbringing and environment? In this case, we will be viewing poverty as a type of environment in which individuals live and grow within. Poverty is a long-standing injustice and social issue that restricts specific resources and opportunities for those who are affected by it. Across many studies there are many varying definitions of poverty. But how does poverty exactly affect personality development? Specifically the personality development from childhood into adolescence.

Poverty is defined as condition or way of life where people’s basic needs aren’t being met. Those needs being food and shelter. Poverty is operationally defined across many studies and experiments and sometimes grouped differently. Each study looks at a specific factor that comes directly into play with poverty. Establishing differences in the level of poverty is important in terms of noting how much exposure the developing individual has had to poverty or a lack general lack of resources because in some cases the longer the exposure the more of an effect it has on someone.

An example would be impoverished neighborhoods split into three groups where high poverty rates being between 30-40%, moderate poverty with the rates between 20-30% and low poverty rates being 20%. In some cases, there can be brief periods of poverty because sometimes individuals manage to get out of an impoverished area. There is sometimes a period where there is a flux between persistently being impoverished and being recently impoverished.

There have been studies conducted on how youth and adolescents in poorer areas are academically affected by being surrounded or growing up in poverty and about how neighborhood affluence and poverty can affect achievement and behavior. They wanted to find out how poverty affects academics and behavior.


Poverty is something that holds back many promising individuals that have potential to do so many amazing things. This is an important topic because the thing that many people fail to realize is that individuals from these impoverished areas that are considered high risk are only that because of what they are surrounded by. It is an important topic to speak on and to bring up because it brings attention to a marginalized group of people that are mostly overlooked and not heard about. Well-being is challenged and constantly put under duress due to the pressures and anxieties of being impoverished. So, how does poverty affect personality development from childhood into adolescence?


What Poverty effects


Access to quality resources is maintained through a consistent salary so when they run low they are able to replenish them with no problem. They are also able to maintain the possessions that they already have. Within maintaining the possessions and a certain quality of life along with experiencing the stability that can come with affluence a sense of self-worth is fostered. Self-worth can be fostered through competency in daily tasks or within the academia. For those who happen to not be in a stable and plentiful environment academic achievement can be seen as the opportunity that can grant some a beginning foundation or a means to aspire to move away or out of poverty. One of the main things that can certainly help alleviate the instability of poverty is educational attainment that can lead to so many opportunities for gainful employment. Affluence and poverty correlated with participant’s outcomes achievement in regards to Math and Reading scores affluence of the neighborhood correlated with higher achievement.

In regards to Math and Reading scores affluence of the neighborhood correlated with higher achievement and the internalizing/externalizing behavior hypothesized models had no support as well. Children who live in disadvantaged neighborhoods are more likely than those in affluent ones to undergo a negative personality change which can create a stigma. There is sometimes a period where there is a flux between persistently being impoverished and being recently impoverished. So, there are different kinds of poverty levels in this study, one that is consistent and persistent while the other is transitional because sometimes people can get out of poverty.

Lower-quality environments, strained relations between the family or mother, and low stimulation quickly impact recent poverty’s effect on internalizing behaviors. Lower quality environments refer to the state of the home itself, so if it is clean, safe and uncluttered the environment is of higher quality. Strained relations mean the ways that the parent interacts with their child or other family members after recently becoming impoverished. Stimulation comes in with social interactions with people outside of the family. Recent poverty means that the family had not previously been in poverty but due to a circumstance they have fallen into poverty. So, it is the Persistent poverty that seems to have in regards to have the longest lasting impact behavior in developing children.

Children are aware of when there is a lack of something or when they don’t have access to some of the things that they want or some of the things that they see other people with. They are quick to acknowledge the lack of what they want and even more quick when asking for the object or thing that they want. Sometimes the line between what one needs to have and what one wants to have is very blurred especially when the things that are essentially needed care out of reach. Individuals from disadvantaged or impoverished areas experience unpredictable childhoods tend to feel as if they themselves have no actual control. Poverty happens for a varying amount of reasons that most of the time boil down to not being the individual’s fault or out of the individual’s control. For example, a family or an individual could fall below the poverty line because of job loss, loss of finances, unemployment and income level that changes their socioeconomic status.


Poverty affects Behavior


Poverty affects behavior in negative or positive ways. Poverty creates a complex and demanding environment that are mostly not conducive to development. Individuals are put under a lot of stress, duress and pressure when growing up in an impoverished environment. Behavior is how an individual acts towards others. Within this limited and high stress environment many frustrations arise. Being in poverty or living in poverty can make a person feel hopeless and out of control. When people feel a lack of control they try to find other things that they can exercise effective control over. In trying to exert control or find control in smaller situations they can become reckless and risky in their judgment. To adapt to this environment of poverty certain behaviors are expressed and these behaviors form into habits. Habits that aren’t always good are formed to find ways to get by or adapt with the environment. Some of the harmful ways frustrations by being in an impoverished environment can manifest themselves is through maladaptive and unsavory behaviors; for example yelling or fighting or refusal to comply with requests.

For example, aggressive behaviors like physical damage that can cause hurt or harm to an individual themselves or someone else. These horrible and sometimes aggressive or violent tendencies that are seen or portrayed don’t necessarily mean that that is what the adolescent or individual truly is or how they truly are. 

Aggressive behaviors like yelling, screaming or fighting can be seen as externalizing behaviors.Internalizing behaviors as negative behaviors that are expressed inwardly . So, these behaviors are inflicted upon the self. Anxiety and depression are two forms of the behavior that are frequently experienced. Stress can cause a number of emotional and behavioral problems. Poor children were rated and found to have more externalizing problems in comparison to those who weren’t poor.

The longer the exposure to poverty the more likely children are to experience sadness, anxiety, and dependency or other forms of problems. The behavior, the externalizing and internalizing problems begin in childhood when exposed to poverty and then carry on into adolescence when poverty is persistent and consistent through development which lead to other areas like academic achievement and opportunity along with personality disorders or anger issues. The longitudinal study looked at the connection between the amount of family income and the rate of poverty over a 6 year period through the use of assessments or questionnaires given out to the children and to their parents or caregivers and went from when the child was in preschool to 5 years of age. They found that as the years went by the children were very likely to experience sadness, anxiety and dependency.

There seems to be a trend in the behavioral development of boys, young children and toddlers when in poverty or in an at-risk area that they tend to have more externalizing behavior issues. Low-income families are at higher risk for family and social stressors, for example job loss, poor quality child care, inadequate supervision, unadressed medical issues, maternal mental health issues, and unsafe neighborhoods, which in turn, negatively impact parenting practices that have been found to be related to the development and exacerbation of behavior problems in children. An extension on the aforementioned definition of externalizing behaviors can be called challenging behaviors. These challenging behaviors can include throwing temper tantrums, destroying property, refusing to listen, noncompliance and elevated levels of aggression.

Results showed that the male participants had many more sexual partners and participated in more delinquent behaviors than that of the female participants. It was also found that unpredictability in the early stages of childhood correlated with the amount of sexual partners later on in life, levels of aggression and criminal behaviors. So instability throughout early years of childhood are indicators of a possible risky personality forming later on in life which was measured when the participants answered questionnaires when they turned 23. 

Within the poverty environment stress plays another role in development. Poverty related stress has been shown to have a strong correlation with the development of anxiety and depression but the way in which an individual responds or reacts to the stresses or stressors is called coping. But there are different kinds of coping that work for each individual separately, everyone has their own strategy that helps them deal with their own kinds and varying amounts of stress; the two types of coping are referred to as primary control coping and secondary control coping.

So, primary control coping consists of strategies that have more of a direct approach to dealing with one’s own feelings and this includes problem solving, emotional expression and emotional regulation while secondary control coping consists of trying to adapt one’s self to differing environments, like for example stressful environments or events, and this this includes acceptance, changing one’s outlook, distraction and positive thinking . Both types of coping can be seen as beneficial in comparison to disengagement coping, which is coping that is unhealthy and includes avoidance, denial and wishful thinking; all of which do not exactly interact with the problem or deal with the emotional side to arising stressors. 


Poverty and Personality


Personality is the combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s unique and distinctive character. There are many facets and parts that compile it and they are called traits. Personality is one of the things that keeps growing, evolving and changing throughout the rest of our lives. It takes some time for people to develop their own distinctive personality because it can be influenced by so many outside factors like their environments, parents, friends, family or a plethora of reasons. It takes time for people to truly come into themselves and to come into their own personalities. Individuals go through many stages in their lives. The first formations of personality come from the behaviors that are learned and acted out from the earlier stages of development and then carried on into the later stages. Repeated behaviors can in turn become habits. And habits become harder and harder to break as time goes on.

Poverty related stressors can take tolls on groups and families with tension rising between them. When there is tension due to poverty related stressors it can cause chaos and issues within the household itself and this can strain the social climate of the home and can be an indicator of children’s ability to recognize and properly process their own negative emotions, It was found that the higher the amount of exposure to conflicts and tension within the home the harder or more difficult it was for children from that home to be able to process and understand negative emotions when faced with them. These negative behaviors become habit and then these habits are carried into adulthood that turn into risky behaviors that can create a risky personality.



Poverty does indeed change and affect personality in many ways even if the individual can move from a place with high levels of poverty. The lack of resources leaves individuals brought up in poverty at a deficit in some areas that carry on into adulthood and it is very unlikely that deficit can be closed. It can increase the prevalence of outwardly aggressive and violent actions which can only lead to negative outcomes for the future. But there are also some positives that come from this restricted lifestyle, like the ability to cope and the ability to be flexible. Although it is difficult to say that poverty can be eradicated so that everyone has the same equal and equitable opportunities it is still a worthy course of action so that everyone can meet their full potential.


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