“Why me?”: Low-Income Women’s Poverty Attributions, Mental Health, and Social Class Perceptions

Although much is known about broad societal attitudes toward poverty, less is known about how women perceive their own poverty. We sought to examine the types of self attributions low-income women make about their poverty, as well as the association of self poverty attributions to women’s mental health and upward mobility beliefs. Using close-ended questions in a community sample of 66 low-income mothers from the Midwestern United States, we found these women were most likely to attribute their poverty to issues related to having children, their romantic relationships, and structural/government blame. The least endorsed attributions for poverty were fatalistic and individualistic reasons. Attributing one’s poverty to children and structural reasons was related to greater depression, and attributing one’s poverty to romantic relationships and structural reasons was related to greater anxiety. Moreover, attributing one’s poverty to children and romantic relationships was positively related to upward mobility beliefs, whereas individualistic attributions were negatively related to upward mobility beliefs. Understanding how women view their poverty and upward mobility can help to improve interventions and policies aimed at low-income women.

Publication Date: 
Online first
Journal Name: 
Sex Roles