Poverty as it is known has been defined as the state of living in perpetual scarcity and is classified into Absolute and Relative poverty. Relative poverty is a poverty standard which varies across different countries, the threshold on which it is measured differs from one society or country to the next. Regardless of the societal differences, the concern on poverty is not only with regards to the short term effects but also on the ripple effects resulting from the presently existing dilemma which has far reaching consequences that can determine or shape the entire course of one’s whole life.What often comes to mind, when we think of poverty, is the lack of food and physical strength but, the other related factors are as devastating as the physical impairments. Not being physically fit acts as a barrier to an individual’s ability to create or engage in activities that might enable them get out of the poverty trap, however, the psychological consequences of poverty on the psyche shapes the way people think, their actions taken and decisions they make. It is self-evident that the career decisions of people are influenced by their state of being, so the two fundamental questions are! What is a sub optimal career and how much does poverty lead someone into choosing a career path that is sub-optimal to their default desires? Before diving into this there are some basic key terms I would like to elaborate on.
In this context I would define a career as the progress and actions taken by a person throughout a lifetime, especially those related to that person’s occupations, therefore a sub optimal career can be considered to be actions taken by an individual in acquiring an occupation that is below the standards optimal for them in achieving the state of wellbeing. In my opinion, relative poverty directly influences career decisions to a great extent. Individuals who fall under relative poverty might not attain entirely their full potentials, they pursue opportunities which will enable the provision of certain basic artefacts. These opportunities might unconventionally become careers not by choice but given circumstances. Now if I were relatively poor, my first instinct will be to go after any opportunity which most often only provides the very basics for survival. Hence poverty might affect the career path one choses or goes for due to a number of factors which ranges from financial to psychological aspects and these factors can be seen as follows:
Cognitive Bias: An article written by Matt Helmer in 2015 analysed how poverty and cognitive bias did impact decisions and actions. He established that the circumstances and stress of poverty consume a great deal of one’s cognitive abilities, attention and self-control thus making one less objective which limits their capabilities in making optimal decisions.
Risk adversity: People in poverty do experiment rarely or take any kind of risk scarcely. They are easily overwhelmed by complex decisions as they try to reduce to the minimum, the margin of error when it comes to decision making compared to wealthier people who can easily recover or change a career path if they made a bad decision. The consequences of the actions of poor people has a more significant effect on their lives. They tend to be less experimental and risk averse, thus settling for the easiest route or safest career choice which is most often not their optimal career choice if circumstances were different.
Identity: Poverty as any other aspect in our social environment forms part of the identity of those afflicted by it. People who are thought of as being poor are associated with negative stigma and stereotypes which can influence their view of themselves and hence subconsciously condition their mind to aim for nothing better. Whilst some may change their view of their place of origin into motivation many do associate themselves to these stereotypes feeling that they as well are incompetent. According to the literature by Ridge (2009) some side effects of poverty are; lower esteem and confidence, lack of belief in one’s capabilities, therefore, settling for a career which needs only base requirements and these usually tend to be poorly paid jobs.
Peer influence: We are all familiar with the saying that birds of the same feathers flock together, they talk together, walk together. Who your friends are affects more than just what the type of jeans you buy, friends have the capacity to affect ones tastes, activities, and lives overall. You tend to act like the people you are associated with over time and this condition is described as homophily by sociologists. It has been established that humans naturally conform to social influence — to their surroundings, environment, strangers, peers, friends, and the like. People tend to socially conform or mimic their friends’ behaviour and attitudes based mainly on these two reasons: the need for information and the need to feel accepted by other people. So if one’s friends consist predominantly of people of the same social and financial background which is most often the case, they might tend to choose the same career as their peers because that is all they know about and also to be accepted and not ostracized or excluded from their communities. This is closely related with the identity crisis which I mentioned above i.e. settling for something less because everyone else around is doing the same and lack of self believe and trust in one’s capabilities.
Work vs. dream job: A person with a job can still find themselves in a relative poor state. Someone can be doing what they love and consider self-fulfilling but if they are faced with relative poverty coupled with added pressure which might come from family, they could, contrary to their wishes take up a different job in order to meet the needs of their families. In this case the job could be well-paid but remains nonetheless a suboptimal career decision for them as they would love to do something else. The sole importance of a career is not only the provision of economic wellbeing (although it is the primary reason) but also to bring about a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. This privilege is often rare for poor people as the seldom have the luxury to choose their careers or career path based on their wishes due to lack of economic resources.
Education: Amongst other reasons like skills and ability, interest and personality type, one of the major factors that influence career choice, is type of education and level of education which is directly influenced by the financial resources available to acquire this education. This has been addressed in several career theories such as social cognitive career theory and social learning. According to these studies, events that take place in our lives may affect the choices available to us and even dictate our choices to a certain degree. To be able to get the adequate training needed for one’s dream job there has to be the necessary financial resources available, thus the absence of this leads young people to settle for something less than what they envision or hoped for.
Unemployment: Pressures from being unemployed can force an individual into a taking a job offer which they might not really like. They take up such jobs only for the economic benefits which again might not be their optimal-career decision.
In conclusion, our decisions and actions are guided greatly by our state of mind and resources available and this is influenced by the circumstances we find ourselves in, which intend might influence our career decisions. Therefore, there is no surprise that the decisions taken by a person leaving in poverty is determined by their circumstances. So to a great extend relative poverty does indeed influence career decisions of people faced with it, which I arguably state could be suboptimal to their default desires or full potential. However, I do not fail to recognise that rich or poor, career decisions are weighted decisions relative to each individual’s situations.
Do you agree?
- Helmer, M. (2015): ‘How Poverty and Cognitive Biases Can impact decisions and actions [online]. Available at: http://www.seattlejobsinitiative.com/wp-content/uploads/SJI_BehaviorEconomics_vFinal.pdf [Accessed 27 May. 2016]
- ‘The difference between relative and absolute poverty (2015) [online] Economic Quackery. Available at: https://economicquackery.wordpress.com/2-the-problem-of-poverty/a-difference-between-relative-and-absolute-poverty/ [Accessed 31 May. 2016]
- Staff Writers. (2011):’What Influences Your Career Choice? [online] OnlineCollege.org. Available at: http://www.onlinecollege.org/2011/05/17/what-influences-your-career-choice/ [Accessed 31 May. 2016]
- Ferry, N. (2006):’Factors Influencing Career Choices of Adolescents and Young Adults in Rural Pennsylvania. [online] Journal of Extention. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2006june/rb7.php [Accessed o2 June. 2016]
- BusinessDictionary.com. Available at: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/career.html [Accessed 13 June. 2016]
- Hoffman, A (2009)’You Think For Yourself but You Act Like Your Friends (on homophily) [Blog] Huffpost Healthy Living. Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/auren-hoffman/you-think-for-yourself-bu_b_182605.html [Accessed 12 June. 2016]