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Lay understandings of the effects of poverty: a Canadian perspective

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Although there is a large body of research dedicated to exploring public attributions for poverty, considerably less attention has been directed to public understandings about the effects of poverty. In this paper, we describe lay understandings of the effects of poverty and the factors that potentially influence these perceptions, using data from a telephone survey conducted in 2002 on a random sample (n = 1671) of adults from eight neighbourhoods in two large Canadian cities (Edmonton and Toronto). These data were supplemented with interview data obtained from 153 people living in these same neighbourhoods. Multivariate linear and logistic regressions were used to determine the effects of basic demographic variables, exposure to poverty and attribution for poverty on three dependent variables relating to the effects of poverty: participation in community life, the relationship between poverty and health and challenges facing low-income people. Ninety-one per cent of survey respondents agreed that poverty is linked to health, while 68% agreed that low-income people are less likely to participate in community life. Affordable housing was deemed especially difficult to obtain by 96%, but other resources (obtaining healthy food, giving children a good start in life, and engaging in healthy behaviours) were also viewed as challenging by at least 70% of respondents. The regression models revealed that when controlling for demographics, exposure to poverty explained some of the variance in recognising the effects of poverty. Media exposure positively influenced recognition of the poverty–health link, and attending formal talks was strongly related to understanding challenges of poverty. Attributions for poverty accounted for slightly more of the variance in the dependent variables. Specifically, structural and sociocultural attributions predicted greater recognition of the effects of poverty, in particular the challenges of poverty, while individualistic attributions predicted less recognition. Older and female respondents were more likely to acknowledge the effects of poverty. Income was positively associated with recognition of the poverty–health link, negatively associated with understanding the challenges of low-income people, and unrelated to perceptions of the negative effect of poverty on participation in community life.
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Keywords: attributions for poverty; effects of poverty; exposure to poverty; public perceptions

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Anthropology and Sociology, University of British Columbia, Canada, 2: Faculty of Nursing and Faculty of Medicine (Public Health Sciences), University of Alberta, Canada, 3: School of Health Policy and Management, York University, Canada, 4: Department of Public Health Sciences, University of Toronto, Canada, 5: Social Support Research Program, University of Alberta, Canada and 6: Department of Public Health Sciences, University of Toronto, Canada

Publication date: 2005-11-01

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