Attributions of Responsibility for Poverty among Lebanese and Portuguese University Students: A Cross-Cultural Comparsion

Article excerpt

This study examines poverty attitudes among Portuguese and Lebanese students (n=372) along Feagin's fatalistic, individualistic, and structuralistic dimensions. Results show that class and nationality are important variables for predicting the causes of poverty in cross-cultural terms. Lebanese students had higher agreements on the fatalistic dimension of poverty than did Portuguese. Significant differences were found between the middle-class Portuguese and Lebanese students on the individualistic and fatalistic dimensions. Middle-class Lebanese students were significantly more fatalistic than their Portuguese counterparts. Furthermore, middle-class Lebanese students documented greater individualistic interpretations of poverty than did Portuguese. MANCOVA test, which used class crossed with nationality on the poverty dimensions, and gender as a covariate did not yield significant differences between means. Wilks' Lambda regression coefficient showed a significant interaction between-class and nationality on the fatalistic dimension. Although the results portray different scores of poverty from those in previous studies, Lebanese students' structuralistic attributions are explained by the present economic and social crises of their country which transcend a strong orientation of system blame. Recommendations are offered for future crosscultural research on poverty.

Research on attribution for poverty has identified four conceptual dimensions for economic failure: individualist, structuralist, fatalist (Feagin, 1972; 1975), and cultural dimensions (Harper, 1991). Taken in concert with causal attribution theory (Heider, 1958) the idea of blame is central to understanding the internal and external causes of poverty. Internal individualistic attributions to poverty hold the poor as being ultimately responsible for their own plight (Griffin & Sakyi, 1993). External explanations of poverty, on the other hand, are mapped out along three levels of classification. These are: structural, in which people blame poverty on external social and economic forces such as lack of education and low wages (Morcol, 1997), fatalistic, in which poverty is blamed on illness and bad luck (Feagin, 1972), and cultural (Harper, 1991) in which poverty is blamed on cultural differences among people. The internalization and externalization of responsibility for poverty are determined by four variables. These are: the dominant ideology of society (Hunt, 1996; Morcol, 1997), past socialization and life experiences of groups distinguished by race, class, gender, age, education, religion, and income (Kluegel & Smith, 1981; 1986), political and institutional behavior (Farnham, 1982; Gilens, 1995), and cognitive styles among different groups (Carr & Maclachlam, 1998; Carr & McFadyen, 1998).

The relevance of ideology as a determinant for explaining attitudes to poverty in different societies has provided different constructs for the causes of poverty. A number of studies, which pathologized poverty in the United States, showed that the majority of Americans explained poverty in individualistic terms (Feagin, 1972; Hunt, 1996; Smith & Stone, 1989) reflecting the strength of the dominant individualistic ideology of that country (Merton, 1968). Studies conducted outside the United States, however, have shown diminished support for individualism concerning poverty. In Turkey, for instance, the study by Morcol (1997) has documented greater popularity for structural views among Turks, who tend to be influenced by the collectivist ideological structure of their society. Other studies have focused on political causes of poverty such as party affiliation/ideology. For instance, Wagstaff (1985) and Furnham (1982) indicated that people affiliated with Conservative political parties tend to be more individualistic in their attributions of poverty than do those affiliated with Liberal or Labor political parties who tend to favor structural explanations. …