Monday, August 08, 2016

What psychological factors lead to poverty, and what factors/beliefs lead to wealth?

The idea that poverty or wealth are based on the psychological makeup of a person is a fallacy. It is amply established that the single most significant factor in poverty or wealth is the socioeconomic status of the family into which each person is born.

Studies on social mobility show repeatedly that socioeconomic status is downwardly “sticky.” That is, most people have a stronger likelihood of sliding downward in the socioeconomic ladder that upward.

Studies about the United States show that it takes at least five generations to climb from the bottom 20% of the income distribution to the top 20%; exception: immigrants. In any case, upward mobility happens to a small minority of people. A recent study of Sweden, recently expanded to Scandinavia and Britain found that a large share of those at the top 20% today were descendants of people in the top 20% in the 1700s.

If the question were rephrased to what traits help the rare few who climb up the socioeconomic ladder, that might elicit a different answer. But beware the Horatio Alger mythology. If hard work made people rich, African bush women would all be billionaires.

This is a repost from my replies to questions posted on Quora, a question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users, at The questions and their subtexts are not mine.

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