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The poor: by chance or by choice?

  1. Mostly by chance

    21 vote(s)
  2. Mostly by choice

    15 vote(s)
  1. Nov 9, 2007 #1
    When you see a homeless, destitute person, do you ascribe their poverty mostly to willful choice, or a series of unfortunate events out of their control?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 9, 2007 #2


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    There is perhaps a spectrum, but certainly circumstance or chance may have a lot to do with it. AFAIK many (perhaps most) do have some form of mental illness, which could be congenital, or perhaps the product of one's environment.

    Tonight there was a discussion on the local public radio about the number of homeless veterans, many of whom have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Coincidentally there was a report recently about the potential for brain injury in soliders serving in Iraq, which could be as high as 20%.
  4. Nov 9, 2007 #3


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    Neither. I don't think it's a conscious choice, nor do I think it was a series of circumstances out of their control, except in the case of mental illness. In cases other than mental illness, I think it's mostly a series of bad decision making by someone who lacked education to make better choices.
  5. Nov 10, 2007 #4

    Ivan Seeking

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    Do you include alcohol and drug addiction under the heading of mental illnesses? Recently I listened to an interview with a former crank addict - a middle-age mother who tried it due to the urging of a friend who said that it would help her lose weight. She said that in six days she went from a mostly happy but overweight soccer-mom, to a desperate drug addict who was willing to leave her children.

    Note also the recent study showing that 1 in 4 homeless are vets.


    As an aside, how much do you want to bet that those who blindly supported Bush and his war will be the first to spit in the faces of homeless vets.
  6. Nov 10, 2007 #5
    How do you classify poor.
  7. Nov 10, 2007 #6
    Although I am not destitute, I'm not wealthy either. My situation was thrust upon me by chance in spite of my best efforts to rise above. My wife shares my fate, but in her case it was by choice. She knew what I was when she married me and could have done better in that department. How do I vote for both, the real situation?
  8. Nov 10, 2007 #7


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    Dearly Missed

    Well, one could equally well ask:
    Affluence: By chance or choice?

    If you were born to a golden spoon, given first-rate education opportunities by your parents because they could afford it, being assured a position in your family firm, is it then solely by your own efforts that you end up being successful in life?

    As I see it, the importance of choice enters in "making the best out of the circumstances you've been placed into".
    But those very circumstances may well limit how far you can get with your own effort.

    If you aren't particularly intelligent at the outset, being born in an affluent family won't limit you much, but may well limit your ability to prosper if you were born to a poor family.
  9. Nov 10, 2007 #8


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    If I consciously think about it when I see someone in this state, I generally ask the question in the OT, "How did they get there?"

    I remember learning in my Poli Sci class that population growth will probably always be greater than food production, and in that regard I assume resources will never match population.
  10. Nov 10, 2007 #9
    I think that it isn't so much that someone consciously thinks to themselves one day "I've decided to be poor". But rather that they do not consider the consequences of their actions and choices, and end up in a poor state because of it.

    Personally I come from a family that was below the poverty line my entire childhood. I was still able to go to university, and hopefully will be able to get a good job/start my own business when I'm done here. From my current situation I can't see myself ever ending up homeless, though growing up I didn't have every opportunity that some people from wealthier families have had.

    Given carefully reasoned choices, anyone should be able to get out of a bad situation.

    Oh yeah, and the opinions in this post do not apply to genuinely disabled people. But where I come from (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada), there are plenty of programs for these people to at least have a decent standard of living.
  11. Nov 10, 2007 #10
    Very true!

    I kind of have a hard time with this subject. People with true mental disabilities, war vets...ect I do truly feel sorry for and think they deserve some help. However I have a hard time feeling sorry for most of the others, especially when in this city every street is lined with for hire signs and businesses are pretty well begging people to come and work for them. A lot of the people begging on the streets, whyte ave in particular, seem quite able bodied to me and none of them seem so mentally disabled that they cannot harrass you for money. I'm pretty sure if they can do that they can shovel snow, or do yardwork for some income, even work on a construction crew. However it is pretty hard to make a judgement like that without knowing their story. As for the alcohol abuse and the soccer mom who took drugs to help lose weight, I have little pity for that as that is just stupidity. I feel sorry for her family but not for her.

    Also it of course depends on location. People in third world countries are very unfortunate and have pretty much 0 chance of ever being able to live life to their full potential and break out of extreme poverty. My heart goes out to those people, and I am so thankful I am not in that postition. However in Canada there no reason for it. You may be below the poverty line, struggling to make ends meet but there is no reason for people to be homeless and begging on the streets.
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2007
  12. Nov 10, 2007 #11


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    Did you reread your post? Why would one choose to be poor?
  13. Nov 10, 2007 #12


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    I agree with ranger. There should be no reason for people to choose the 'mostly by choice' option. Nobody wants to be poor and anybody who thinks they've chosen to live their life that way is rather deluded. Regarding mental illness issues then I would have to agree that most people that are homeless possibly have a mental condition. If it wasn't for the support of my parents I'd probably be homeless because I literally couldn't survive and I'm fairly highly educated.
  14. Nov 10, 2007 #13
    I knew a man (quite atypical) that some called "homeless by choice," whether he sought pity, pride or manipulation. He insisted on the right to sue many, including an elderly friend of mine who had the misfortune to take him in. He was sociopathic rather than medically ill. A homeless man whom I took in for a week managed to flood out a bathroom and bedroom. I do not harbor blame for them, but choose not to be responsible for their choices anymore, which their families must have also decided.

    By the way, I work part time and generously for a large nonprofit organization that champions those having serious mental illness, and have communicated with many good people experiencing these conditions. I would probably be homeless, then dead from my schizoaffective disorder if not for the kindness of my doctor and parents, and my compliance with medication. For instance, to stop smoking marijuana (self-medication which can cause psychoses) may have been the best choice I ever made.

    I included the "choice" option to see how many misinformed people agreed that the majority of poor were there willingly. (About one-third of the homeless are seriously mentally ill, according to Dr. E. Fuller Torrey.)
  15. Nov 10, 2007 #14
    looking at some of my friends... I would say that it's not that they choose to be poor, it's that they choose to not do anything about their descent into poverty and crime. They knowingly chose the too-easy path and chose to ignore the fact that they weren't going to stay 15 years-old for the rest of their lives.

    So I voted mostly by choice. Because I've met only a few who truly had no say in the matter (at least as far as North America is concerned... the 3rd world is another story), and most of them saw it coming and had plenty of chances and second chances and third chances to redeem themselves that they didn't take.
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2007
  16. Nov 11, 2007 #15
    I agree that the question needs to be reworded. No one "chooses" to be poor. I think some people are apathetic to thier situation and choose not to work to overcome thier situation. If someone makes poor decisions such as not choosing an education or to live within the rules of society, thier poor judgement indirectly causes poverty. When you take into account the mentally ill, neglected, and involuntarily homeless, You're oversimplifying a more complexed issue.

    If only we could all "choose" to be rich=)
  17. Nov 12, 2007 #16


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    There is a problem here in that the OP doesn't match the title. The title says "poor" and the OP says "homeless, destitute". Since I think it is correct that most homeless have some form of mental illness, that is certainly not a choice. But they are a small subset of all poor people.

    IMO, taken as an entire group, the poor mostly become poor as a result of their choices. The straightforward corellation between income and education is clear evidence of that. Now some people object to the very idea that someone would choose to be poor (and the way the question is worded makes people uncomfortable), but when someone drops out of high school, that is exactly what they are doing, whether they know it at the time or not.

    In fact, I would go so far as to say that because the corellation between income and education is so strong, this question is not a matter of opinion: it is a matter of statistical fact.
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2007
  18. Nov 12, 2007 #17


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    I would say that people never choose to live in poverty.

    On the other hand, I would say some people do choose to get by comfortably, over being rich; for example, academia versus industry :wink:
  19. Nov 12, 2007 #18


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    I think it is mostly by chance, but in fact, this can easily experimentally be established, although I didn't look into it.

    If it it mostly by *choice* then there should only be a low correlation between how people started out in life (wealth of parents etc...) and what's their actual state. If one finds a high correlation (I bet it is...) between the wealth by which one started out, and how one ends up, then clearly this is not a choice, but the chance of being born in the right place.

    Of course both causes are present. You can do stupid things (such as party all the time when you had the chance to get a good education and so on, be an impossible character at work so that you always get fired, etc...). Then it is your (stupid) choice. This is what Russ pointed out. But I would bet that most of the time, there's a correlation between the poverty in which one started out one's life, and how one ends up.
  20. Nov 12, 2007 #19


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    There are indeed some destitute who choose their situation over working to support themselves. So yes, when considering the alternative - having to work - they do indeed choose to be poor and even homeless.
  21. Nov 12, 2007 #20


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    If you are going this far, can you go a little farther and point us to the statistics that show that most poor people have low education levels? I have looked around a little and not found it, though you'd expect it be somewhere in the census site. And I'm too lazy to get income and education data seperately and apply Bayes' theorem on the converse data.

    PS: The converse correlation (that people with little education are more likely to be poor) is easy enough to find, but that is not the subject of this thread.
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