New Poverty: Families in Postmodern Society

By David Cheal | Go to book overview

10
The Postmodernization of Poverty

Old people and children have benefited unequally from economic and political change in the twentieth century. At the beginning of the century, the early years of life were associated with a high risk of poverty. Children still have an above-average risk of being poor today. In contrast, the elderly, who experienced great absolute poverty at the beginning of the century, and extreme relative poverty in the middle of the century, have fared much better. Comparatively low rates of poverty among the elderly in the 1990s are dramatic proof of the positive benefits of targeted income transfer programs. The fact that children have not benefited from the modern welfare state in the same way raises some interesting questions.

The idea that the welfare state could be responsible for creating economic inequalities would have seemed preposterous to the early social reformers, yet we have seen that it is an idea that must be taken seriously today. It is a challenging idea, because it calls into question assumptions about progress and about the beneficial role of the state in economic and social development.

In the first chapter of this book, several theories of modernization were reviewed, and their implications for understanding the phenomenon of poverty were outlined. It is now time to reexamine those theories in light of our research findings.

Modernization theorists are essentially committed to the ideal that improvement in people's chances of leading a full and happy life is a

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