Locus of Control and the Attribution for Poverty: Comparing Lebanese and South African University Students

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The attitudes of a sample of 443 Lebanese and South African college students towards the causes of poverty as measured by their locus of control and socio-demographic background were studied. Cross-national differences and personality style constructs of external and internal locus of control were used in a MANCOVA design. No significant interaction differences appeared between national status and locus of control, which gave no support to the main hypothesis of this study that respondents from individualistic cultures (South Africa) have internal locus of control and make more individualistic attributions of poverty. Lebanese students were more structuralistic, and had more external than internal locus of control than South Africans. The independent variable of class did not appear as a predictor to the structural attribution for poverty. Hence, university education may be the most important factor in the attributions of poverty. Conceptualization in the design as to how individuals see poverty outside their immediate environment and how this can affect the formation of their poverty attitudes are suggested as areas for further research.

Keywords: causes of poverty, Lebanese students, South African students, locus of control.

What do youth think of the causes of poverty? Do they think of them in the same way in different places in the world? A number of studies have investigated laypersons' attitudes as to why poverty persists in society, or why people are poor. Among the first is Feagin's (1972) study, which provided an attribution model of the causes for poverty. He presented three dimensions to causes of poverty: the fatalistic (caused by factors such as the unknown, fate, or luck), individualistic (reasons such as responsibility of the individual i.e., individual effort), and the structuralistic attribution (factors were powerful others such as institutions or systems of control). A number of studies conducted in the US and elsewhere have replicated the work of Feagin, and have shown that the sociodemographic variables of religion, ethnicity, region, and other socioeconomic variables such as income, age, and education have also predicted attribution of the causes of poverty.

Subsequent studies in other countries have followed Feagin's original model of poverty attributions, and more recently studies emanating from the US by Cozzarelli, Wilkinson, and Tagler (2001) and Kay, Jost, and Young (2005) have shown that context and stereotypes have an overbearing effect on the way attributions are made, whether in derogating the victim or "lionizing the winners." Poverty attributions among young British subjects based on class and education variables, showed that middle-class children provided more societal than fatalistic or structuralistic interpretations to the causes of poverty (Furnham, 1982). Morcol's study (1997) showed that young Turks were more structuralistic than individualistic in their perception of the causal attribution for poverty. Similarly, a high structuralistic attribution was found among well-to-do Lebanese (Abouchedid & Nasser, 2002) and a predominance among White Americans to attribute poverty to individualistic reasons (Feagin, 1975; Kluegel & Smith, 1986). These variations in attributions were tangibly different in Encaenia. For instance, both adolescent Chinese in Hong Kong and their parents showed greater factor loading on the exploitation of the poor as an attribution for poverty (Shek, 2003). However, New Zealand adolescents were more individualistic in their attitudes (Stacy & Singer, 1985), while Australian college students were more structuralistic than their Malawi counterparts (Carr & MacLachan, 1998). Attributions for poverty may depict a different behavioral structure that can be universally contoured by the sociopolitical and ideological make-up of a society, particular to each national state or even at the microlevel, for ethnic or racial groups.

Beyond cultural similarities and differences, research has explored attribution for poverty on the basis of political ideology; between Conservative versus Labour party affiliations (see Furnham, 1982), Democrats versus Republicans (Kluegel & Smith, 1986), Conservative versus Liberal (Williams, 1984) and at the ethnic level, Hispanics versus Afro-American (Hunt, 1996). …