Poverty Essay Example and Tips

poverty essay example



“Poverty is not a lack of character, but a lack of money” – with these words the young historian and thinker Rutger Bregman began his lecture at TED about the need to introduce a system of unconditional basic income. Meanwhile, inequality is the natural hierarchical state of human society, which is divided into layers or classes according to certain characteristics that vary from epoch to epoch and from culture to culture. On what group a person belongs to, depends his access to life resources in the widest sense of the word – from education to water and even air. Ubiquitous social and material inequality combined with theories of economic self-regulation gave rise to the view that the main blame for poverty lies with the poor themselves, who do not know how to work, make bad decisions, are prone to vice and laziness. It was this neoliberal idea in the spirit of moralizing that the “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher presented, stating in an interview that poverty is a lack of character.

Whether she was right is argued by the supporters of the liberal state, which is moving away from interference in the economy, and socialism, in which the government manages economic processes to maintain social justice (the degree of its participation may vary). However, today Thatcher’s statement takes on a new sound in connection with the revolutionary discoveries in the field of the laws of the brain that have been made over the past two decades.

It is becoming increasingly clear that poverty is indeed a lack of character. There is a vicious circle: poverty leads to the appearance of such shortcomings, disrupting the brain. A person with changed character traits, in turn, begins to make bad decisions and leads an unreasonable way of life, exacerbating his own poverty. These discoveries that aroused an increased interest in the idea of ​​universal basic income-the redistribution (over) of the profits of the rich between those who receive too little. And now such interest is cautiously shown not only by supporters of socialist doctrines, but also by conservatives. Such proposals are seriously discussed at the World Economic Forum in Davos, and in India the project is already being implemented in a “compromise” version with loans, and experts see in it the potential for economic growth and the reduction of inequality.



There are two basic ways of defining this concept.

The threshold of absolute poverty is established formally by the World Bank, which names the amount – about $ 2 per day, which can “support livelihoods.” This is a very conditional cut-off, it helps to determine the number of extremely poor and poor in the world, but what about those who survive a little over this boundary? In fact, you hardly call a rich person who spends no more than $ 3 a day. Such a calculation does not take into account the level of inequality, so there is another method – the calculation of relative poverty, defined as inaccessibility to someone benefits available to other members of society. This approach is also called “deprivation”, because such a person is in deprivation of relatively better-off people.

We need to use the second definition of poverty, understood as the discrepancy between life and consumption in a standard accepted by society, in order to understand how it affects the brain, because in this case, instead of dry and rather conventional figures, we get a clearer and more realistic picture.

Relative poverty in highly developed economies can look harmless, as the inaccessibility of travel or prestigious education with the availability of a decent food basket and even some excess clothing. In developing countries, a scarce resource for the poor can be, for example, water, as is the case in the African continent. But there is also the fact that it unites all people in the deprivation zone in any economy – a sense of their own isolation.


Stress is a universal model of activation of the organism in general and of the brain in particular. To escape from a sudden danger or, with superhuman efforts, to hand over a session, to gain additional work with the goal of accumulating on a trip – all these achievements are impossible without stress activation. It is triggered by any attempt to adapt to new conditions, and a change in nervous organization can serve as an indicator of successful adaptation. In this restructuring, immunity, metabolism, hormones and brain neurotransmitters are involved.

Stress activates the limbic system, which triggers the release of specific hormones, primarily the adrenal cortisol, which is part of the glucocorticoid group. It increases blood pressure and blood glucose level, this is due to the need for enhanced cell nutrition. The disintegration of proteins is accelerating (to quickly get the necessary “food”) and the synthesis of fat (to make reserves, while there is something to store). Sensitivity to sex hormones under the influence of glucocorticoids decreases: stress “extinguishes” libido, because the moment of struggle for life is clearly not the best time for reproduction.

For the first time sensitivity to glucocorticoids was found in the hippocampus, a department largely responsible for cognitive functions and memory. Under the influence of stress, cells are destroyed there – while training increases the hippocampus even in adults and the elderly.

In the median region of the prefrontal cortex, responsible for planning, cognition, control of actions and emotions, and conscious behavior as a whole, under the influence of glucocorticoids, neural connections are reduced. This leads to rigidity of cognitive abilities: flexibility is good only in quiet times, and in a situation of stress, clarity and unambiguous thinking are important. At the same time, in the orbitofrontal cortex, the number of connections increases. This area is not well understood, but it is now believed that it is responsible for adaptive learning and motivation, and the growth in the number of connections in it may be caused by the need to remain vigilant and quickly get used to new incentive mechanisms.

The tonsil, a part of the emotive form of the limbic system, works very intensely under stress, and if a person stays in this state for a long time, it practically never leaves the active regime. This is associated with increased anxiety in particular and emotional reactivity in general.


The mechanism of stress response of the brain is well adapted to rapid changes: it allows you to activate the body for the most effective implementation of the strategy of “hit or run.” However, this mechanism does not work in a situation of constant prolonged stress.

The temporary restriction of cognitive functions, anxiety and impulsiveness, necessary for survival at the moment of danger, become a daily norm of life. The high level of uncontrollable stress due to all these changes is correlated with the deterioration of health and the increase in mortality. Constant stress does not allow us to focus, build plans, calculate our actions and make important decisions – physically. It literally deprives the body of the opportunity to work effectively, under normal conditions, engaged in long-term planning and control.

Poverty, as studies have shown, is one of the types of stress that rebuilds the human brain in such a fateful way.


The most unprotected group of people are children. And speaking of poverty, they are doubly vulnerable: the human cubs are forced to be born with an unformed brain. It can be compared to open source, which users adjust for themselves. The environment, the emotional state and character of people’s speech around, the features of nutrition, the variety of toys – all these affect the structure and work of the brain of the future adult. Not only genetics determines the peculiarities of the development of this complex organ, but also environmental factors: toxic substances, poor nutrients, drug use and drug use by parents, social deprivation and domestic violence. All these signs are characteristic of a greater degree of life beyond the poverty line and near it. In addition to those listed, there are other stressful factors: hard work of parents or frequent changes in their jobs, regular food shortages, limited access to necessary medicines, unemployment and homelessness.

In neuroscience, the concept of a “depleted medium” is used, in which the development of the brain is difficult because of a lack of stimuli. Close space, the lack of a variety of toys and outdoor games are factors that weaken the neural layer of the brain. This means that in a depleted environment nerve cells grow worse and form new bonds, while the old ones are destroyed more actively than under normal conditions.

To maximize the brain potential of a child, it is very important not only to enrich the physical environment, but also to communicate with significant adults. After all, speech and language are the most important factor in the formation of higher mental functions. The study showed that by the age of 4 a child from a highly educated family hears an average of 45 million words, of a worker – 26 million, and from living on a benefit – only 13 million.

According to data obtained by American scientists, the brain volume of family members with an income of 1.5 minimum standards is less by 3-4%, and in children living below the poverty line, this gap is 10%. Heavy material position affects the frontal lobe, controlling attention, regulation of emotions and learning processes, the temporal zone important for speech development, and the hippocampus, which allows processing and storing information. About 20% of the responsibility for the poor performance of children from poor families, researchers place only on the environment that slows the maturation of the brain.

The stressful condition of the mother affects the work of the infant’s brain in the womb. Such children at the molecular level lose the mechanisms of self-control, but grow up, become more impulsive and are prone to bad habits and nervous disorders than their peers. Long-term observations have shown that in adults, whose childhood passed in poverty, the activity of the amygdala is also increased, and the prefrontal cortex, on the contrary, “fails” – even if their financial situation has now improved. This means that they are still too impulsive, they are worried about every minor thing, they react sharply to stress, and their cognitive strategies are not flexible enough.


The natural aging of the organism does not necessarily entail a deterioration in cognitive functions. Today we can not struggle with old age as an oxidative process – but we are able to improve the quality of life of elderly people. The most important factors of brain health at this age are good blood circulation and a balanced diet. However, apart from them, the so-called cognitive reserve – the sum of the intellectual work of the brain – is of great importance.

Self-education, mastering new skills, in general, any intellectual activity – the more we load the brain with such work, the more active and “younger” it is. And the more active it is, the better it compensates for cell losses caused by age-related changes. Social connections are also a very important component of this brain capital: older people who have friends and spend leisure time in society do not deteriorate (or, in any case, deteriorate much more slowly) cognitive functions, the substance of the brain maintains a sufficiently high density, and they take more effective decisions than their lonely peers.

Obviously, neither the social leisure, nor the good food, amateur sports loads, nor self-education are available to the old people who live in poverty, because they are isolated from society, fenced off by a glass wall of material unhappiness and have problems with satisfying even the basic needs and receiving medical care.


Our brain is plastic: the environment affects it not only in childhood, but throughout life, although not so intensely. A person who has grown up in poverty can change the work of his brain with the help of neuromanagement and learning – but this is very difficult to achieve without transforming the environment around, without making it more friendly, full of possibilities and stimulating to knowledge.

If brain training is in the zone of personal responsibility, then changing the environment and eliminating colossal inequality is definitely a collective task. In connection with the discoveries in the field of neuroplasticity, today it should be considered not in the context of charity, but in terms of social necessity and the common good.

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