The Not-So-Subtle Connection Between Stress and Poverty

People are poor because they are less intelligent that others, right? People who are poor are less educated than the wealthy because they are less intelligent, right? People are poor because they lack confidence and drive, right? Poor people perform more poorly at most tasks because they are unwilling to devote their energy to the task, right? WRONG, on all counts!

Stress obviously goes hand in hand with poverty, but rich people also worry about money. The difference is that the poor don’t worry simply about money. Ongoing, continual poverty creates an environment of stress in which conflict, food insecurity, violence and housing worries, among many others arises because of the stress, but also feeds the stress even more. Thus, the entire milieu of poverty perpetuates the stress, which gives rise to other issues, which makes climbing out of poverty more difficult.

This study, out of UNICEF Research Office, June, 2016, when on to report that providing short-term relief in the form of cash payouts did not reduce perceived stress, even though it improved economic security. Thus, it is clear that it is the environment of poverty that perpetuates the stress and exacerbates related issues and that the solution is not as simple as quick cash, if the long-term outlook for the subject is still one of poverty.

But then, is the root of the problem that people are poor firstly because they are less able and intelligent than others? Actually, the opposite may be true.

According to Alice Walton, writing in the University of Chicago Business School’s journal, The Chicago Booth Review, being poor may lower your IQ by as much as thirteen points.

A young man, a few decades ago, from a very impoverished background, was scheduled to write his Mensa qualifying tests. In the weeks prior to the test, in addition to having lived a life of deprivation, his mother and father both suffered what would be life-ending illnesses, he was forced to leave the house in which he had been raised, he was called on to assist a neighbour battling a fire that threatened his home and the young man had used up the very last of his finances for the month to pay for short-term accommodation. To say the least, he was under stress. He scored 138 on the Mensa test, high enough to qualify for membership.

Two years later, he wrote an IQ test again. He scored 165. That is a huge difference, seldom seen in intelligence testing. Yet, the only factor that had changed was that now, his income was stable and reasonable and the other stressors in his life had dissipated.

Poverty lowers one’s IQ, not the other way around.

There can be little doubt that not having a decent education correlates very highly to making less money in the workplace. But being poor also makes it extremely difficult to realize one’s potential academically.

There are myriad stories about people forced to leave school prematurely to support the family. Others cite lack of enough money for tuition as the reason why they did not proceed to post-secondary studies. It is not that these people don’t want an education. It is that they cannot find the economic means to get one, and, in turn, remain mired in poverty.

Yet, even in grade school, through high school, performance levels among those of a lower socio-economic class are lower than classmates from more affluent backgrounds. It defies the belief of many outside the low SEC that poverty implies a moral failure. Performance suffers because the person is preoccupied with more immediate concerns. Try mental math when you are being chased down the street by an angry dog! Your thoughts are hardly on anything other than that immediate moment.

Like any achievement, rising out of poverty requires confidence. in the belief that, first, you can do it and second, that it is sustainable. Living in poverty tends to steal from people the ability to plan for a better future. The day-to-day nature of existence at the low end of the SEC denies people the ability to take a long-term perspective. Oxford University and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report that, when facing poverty, people have a much more difficult time making decisions, doubt their choices and have lowered attention spans. That is, the moment intrudes on the future.

Most governments in the western world have introduced tax-free investment plans and retirement savings plan options to allow poorer people to set aside for their future, but the plans are entirely unrealistic Saving anything for tomorrow is unreasonable when today’s needs are far from met. Consequently, a very small fragment of those in the lowest socio-economic group even consider retirement and contingent saving.

This forces them even further behind their more affluent counterparts, which, in turn, impacts on their confidence, their ability to focus on development and growth and forces them into the primary survival channel for the poorest of the poor: day-to-day existence.

It is not that the poor don’t want better opportunity, or hope to succeed and grow. IT is more that they are trapped in an environment that saps the ability to stay afloat, much less thrive. They may have had the ability, the intelligence and the confidence to move ahead, but poverty, daily, robs them of those skills and we, in turn, lose out because hordes of people that, given the right opportunity, could contribute in very significant ways, to the world around them.

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