I write a lot at Get Rich Slowly about habits that foster wealth and success.
Like it or not, there are very real differences between the behaviors and attitudes of those who have money and those who don’t. This isn’t me being classist or racist. It’s a fact. And I think that if we want ourselves and others to be able to enjoy economic mobility, to escape poverty and dire circumstances, we have to have an understanding of the necessary mental shifts.
The problem, of course, is that it’s one thing to understand intellectually that wealthy people and poor people have different mindsets, but it’s another thing entirely to be able to adopt more productive attitudes in your own life.
In fact, sometimes it’s downright impossible. If you’re poor, you’re often too busy struggling to survive.
The Plight of the Poor
There’s a seductive myth that poor people deserve what they get. If poor people are poor, it’s their own fault. If they wanted to be middle class (or wealthy), if they wanted to be successful, then they’d do the things that lead to wealth and success.
Look, let’s get real. Nobody wants to be poor. Nobody wants to struggle from day to day wondering where they’re going to get money for food, for clothing, for medicine. And studies show that if you give poor people cash, they really do tend to use the money to improve their lives instead of squandering it on alcohol and cigarettes.
Yes, there are absolutely people who do dumb things that keep them mired in debt and despair. No question. Some people are poor because they’ve made poor choices.
But far more people live in poverty due to systemic issues and/or historical legacy than due to a pattern of financial misbehavior. Most poor people were born into poverty and don’t have the knowledge or resources to escape it.
What’s more, poverty actually alters the way people think and behave. It’s great for us to have discussions about the mindsets of millionaires, but the truth is it can be difficult (if not impossible) for poor people to make sense of some of the things we talk about. Here’s a quote from a 2015 article about the psychological effects of poverty (from the magazine for the Association for Psychological Science):
Decades of research have already documented that people who deal with stressors such as low family income, discrimination, limited access to health care, exposure to crime, and other conditions of low [socio-economic status] are highly susceptible to physical and mental disorders, low educational attainment, and low IQ scores…
Studies also show that poverty in the earliest years of childhood may be more harmful than poverty later in childhood.
Poverty breeds poverty. Economic mobility does exist and people do manage to make it to the middle class, but it’s not easy. On an individual level, people become trapped by a “poverty mindset”. On a societal level, there are systemic and historical issues that exacerbate poverty and make it difficult to escape. [Read more…]