Explaining poverty : a comparison between perceptions and conditions of poverty in South Africa

Davids, Yul Derek (2010-12)

Thesis (DPhil (Political Science))--University of Stellenbosch, 2010.

Bibliography

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: In this dissertation I explore people’s perceptions of the causes of poverty. Literature reveals that there are three broad theoretical explanations of perceptions of the causes of poverty: individualistic explanations, where blame is placed squarely on the poor themselves; structural explanations, where poverty is blamed on external social and economic forces; and fatalistic explanations, which attribute poverty to factors such as bad luck or illness. Furthermore, the findings of studies reviewed showed that these explanations interact with socio-economic and demographic variables such as race, geographical location, education, lived poverty index (LPI), living standard measure (LSM) and employment. I therefore critically examine explanations of poverty among South Africans as measured by individualistic, structural and fatalistic dimensions and how it interacts with the socio-economic and demographic variables. Employing a national representative survey of 3510 adults aged 18 and older conducted by the Human Sciences Research Council between 18 April and 30 May 2006 the findings of the present study confirmed most of the theoretical arguments cited in the literature. For instance, South Africans, in general, perceive the causes of poverty in structural terms, but a large proportion of respondents also perceive the causes of poverty in individualistic terms. Access to basic necessities influenced perceptions of the causes of poverty since the poor mostly perceived poverty in structural rather than individualistic terms. White South Africans in contrast to black Africans perceive the causes of poverty mostly in individualistic terms. Coloured respondents are the most fatalistic in their perceptions of the causes of poverty. Further analysis show that respondents living in traditional areas compared to those in urban formal areas are less likely to have structural perceptions of the causes of poverty. This is a very interesting finding because my examination on the extent of lived poverty in showed that the urban formal areas have the smallest proportion of respondents that have gone without basic necessities over the past year if contrasted to the traditional, rural formal and urban informal areas. I found that education had no significant impact on structural perceptions of the causes of poverty. In spite of my assessment of the extent of access to basic necessities which revealed that a large proportion of respondents with primary education compared to those with tertiary education go without these basic necessities. In addition, the study found that the relationship between the socio-economic and demographic variables and the structural, individualistic and fatalistic perceptions of the causes of poverty is considerably more complex and that it is possible for the race group, level of education, employment status and geographical location of the respondent all to interact in a multidimensional manner and have an impact on how the causes of poverty is perceived. However, the three linear regressions examining the relationship between the socio-economic and demographic variables and the structural, individualistic and fatalistic perceptions of the causes of poverty should be interpreted with caution because the explanatory power of the three regression models is quite weak (as indicated by Adjusted R²). In sum, the present study is extremely relevant in many ways and makes a unique contribution at both a methodological and policy level. Methodologically, the findings showed that the LPI may contribute to the proposed poverty line suggested for South Africa. As such, the findings offer a valuable message for the country’s decision makers about South Africans’ perceptions of the causes of poverty.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie verhandeling ondersoek die persepsies van die publiek met verwysing na die oorsake van armoede. Die literatuur dui op drie breë teoretiese verklarings aangaande persepsies oor die oorsake van armoede: individualistiese verklarings wat die blaam vierkantig op die armes self plaas, strukturele verklarings wat armoede toeskryf aan eksterne sosiale en ekonomiese magte en dan fatalistiese verklarings wat armoede toeskryf aan faktore soos die noodlot of siekte. Navorsing toon dat hierdie verklarings in interaksie met sosio-demografies, ekonomiese veranderlikes soos ras, geografiese ligging, opvoeding, indiensneming; die ‘Lived Poverty Index’ en geslag verkeer. Die huidige verhandeling ondersoek dus krities die verklarings, in terme van armoede onder Suid-Afrikaners, soos gemeet deur die individualistiese, strukturele en fatalistiese dimensies en hul interaksie met sosio-demografiese en ekonomiese veranderlikes. ‘n Nasionale verteenwoordingende opname van 3,510 volwassenes, 18 jaar en ouer wat tussen 18 April en 30 Mei 2009 deur die Raad vir Geesteswetenskaplike Navorsing uitgevoer het die meeste van die teoretiese argumente waarna in die literatuur verwys word bevestig. Byvoorbeeld, Suid-Afrikaners het oor die algemeen armoede vanuit strukturele perspektief waargeneem. Groot proporsie van respondente het armoede egter aan individualistiese faktore toegeskryf. Toegang tot basiese noodsaaklikhede het die persepsies van armoede beïnvloed aangesien die armes armoede meestal toegeskryf het aan strukturele eerder as individualistiese dimensies. Blankes, in vergelyking met Swart Suid-Afrikaners, het individualistiese eerder as strukturele persepties getoon. Kleurling repondente was die mees fatalisties aangaande hul persepsies oor die oorsake van armoede. Respondente wat in tradisionele landelike areas woon het armoede in mindere mate toegeskryf aan strukturele persepsies in vergelyking met repondente woonagtig in formele stedelike areas. Dit was baie interesante resultaat omdat daar verwag is dat respondente wat in tradisionele landelike areas woon armoede eerder sou toeskryf aan strukturele persepsies, terwyl repondente woonagtig in formele stedelike areas meer individualistiese persepsies sou openbaar. Die studie het ook bevind dat opvoeding en indiensneming geen merkwaardige invloed het op persepsies oor die oorsake van armoede nie. ‘n Verdere bevinding van die studie was dat die verhouding tussen die sosio-ekonomiese en demografiese veranderlikes en die struturele, individualistiese en fatalistiese persepsies van armoede aansienlik meer ingewikkeld en kompleks is. Dit is dus moontlik dat die rassegroep, vlak van opvoeding, indiensnemingstatus en geografiese ligging van respondent saam op multi-dimensionele manier in interaksie kan verkeer en dus impak kan hê op hoe armoede deur die respondent gesien word. Dit is belangrik om daarop te let dat die drie regressie analises wat die verhouding tussen die sosioekonomiese en demografiese veranderlikes en die struturele, individualistiese en fatalistiese persepsies van armoede ondersoek baie versigtig geinterpreteer moet word aangesien die verklaringsterkte van die drie regressies baie swak is. Ter opsomming was die studie onder bespreking uiters relevant ten opsigte van verskeie areas en het dit dus unieke bydrae gemaak tot beide metodologiese en beleidskwessies. Metodologies het die bevindinge getoon dat die ‘Lived Poverty Index’ kan bydra tot die voorgestelde armoede-lyn vir Suid-Afrika. Die bevindinge bied waardevolle inligting vir die land se besluitnemers aangaande Suid-Afrikaners se persepsies oor die oorsake van armoede.

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