Adolescents understanding of poverty and the poor in rural malaysia
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ADOLESCENTS’ UNDERSTANDING OF POVERTY AND THE POOR IN RURAL MALAYSIA. Murnizam Halik Universiti Malaysia Sabah Paul Webley School of Oriental and African Studies, London. Background. Feagin (1972) identified 3 broad categories of attributions: individualistic, structural and fatalistic

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Adolescents understanding of poverty and the poor in rural malaysia

Murnizam Halik

Universiti Malaysia Sabah

Paul Webley

School of Oriental and African Studies, London


  • Feagin (1972) identified 3 broad categories of attributions: individualistic, structural and fatalistic

  • Found that Americans favoured individualistic explanations for poverty

  • With British adolescents, public schoolboys favoured individualistic attributions, comprehensive (state-educated) boys favoured structural attributions

  • Generally, children favour individualistic attributions but with age are more likely to explain poverty (and other economic phenomena) by reference to structural issues.

Purpose of study
Purpose of study

Study aims to extend existing knowledge in 3 main ways:

  • As well as examining adolescents understanding of the causes of poverty, the respondents were asked how poverty should be alleviated and who was responsible for this issue

  • Qualitative and quantitative approaches were combined

  • Sample was not from a western society, but drawn from a rural area in Asia (Sabah, Malaysia)

The approach
The Approach

  • Interviewed children aged 12-13 and 15-16 years old from rural and urban areas in Sabah, Malaysia.

  • Urban sample came from those resident in low cost flats (meant for those below the minimum income level) in Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah

  • Rural sample came from two poor districts, 85 and 105 miles from Kota Kinabalu

  • Interviews carried out in Malay by 5 separate interviewers, translated into English by the first author

  • Data analysed using grounded theory approach

  • Responses about the causes of poverty categorised as individualistic, structural or fatalistic.

Adolescent explanations for poverty i
Adolescent explanations for poverty I

The most frequent individualistic explanations refer to laziness or lack of effort

In my opinion, they don’t work harder than [they need]. They work just to get enough to buy food. Just enough [RO]

Some of them are just too lazy to do any work [RY]

They are lazy and don’t want to put in effort to change their condition [UO]

I think these people lack effort, they are not hardworking,

that’s why they are poor [UY]

Adolescent explanations for poverty ii
Adolescent explanations for poverty II

References to lack of education – we have also classified as an individualistic explanation:

Some maybe are not educated thus they can’t get better jobs [RY]

Those who are not educated, it’s difficult for them to look for jobs. They can only work as farmers. They work for other people [RO]

Another common individualistic explanation was the attitude of the poor – though this was only mentioned by older rural adolescents

The poor surrender to fate, they do not

try to improve themselves only accepting

what they have right now [RO]

Adolescent explanations for poverty iii
Adolescent explanations for poverty III

The two most common structural explanations referred to employment and low income

There are not enough jobs in the village, other than being farmers [RO]

Poverty doesn’t mean that they don’t put in any effort, they work, but they only have a small income [RY]

Only the older respondents sometimes blamed the government.

Maybe because of the government’s policy. The government only concentrates on the development of poor people in urban areas, not in rural areas.

They neglect the poor in rural areas. The government provides

better education in the urban areas. And it’s not the same here [RO]

Adolescent explanations for poverty iv
Adolescent explanations for poverty IV

Among rural respondents, fatalistic explanations covered things like poverty being passed down through the generations:

In our place they are poor because they descended from a poor family, from then until now [RY]

Maybe poverty is passed down from their parents, the first generation Is poor and the second generation will be too.[RO]

The urban respondents mentioned misfortune, death and

family breakup

Maybe they’ve lost their parents, maybe

they have family problems [UY]

Adolescent explanations for poverty v
Adolescent explanations for poverty V

  • Individualistic attributions are by far the most cited causes of poverty

  • Older adolescents provided more explanations for poverty than the younger ones

Views on how to alleviate poverty i
Views on how to alleviate poverty I

Donation is the commonest response:

Government can assist by giving food, clothes and basic needs. Neighbours and those who can afford it can help by giving food to the poor [RY]

The private sector can help by providing welfare and charitable help to the poor, maybe through donations. The public can help too, they can help if they can afford by contributing money to the poor [UO]

Some poor families have rich relatives so the rich should help their poor relatives to improve their conditions [RO]

Views on how to alleviate poverty ii
Views on how to alleviate poverty II

Infrastructure, facilities and loans

Government can help by providing facilities such as electricity, public phones and other things. The private sector maybe can build more clinics, schools and a community hall for the villagers [RY]

The government can help by providing water, electricity and access roads to the village [RO]

Government could provide … basic necessities such as water [UO]

Views on how to alleviate poverty iii
Views on how to alleviate poverty III

Education is seen as a shared responsibility among themselves and the government.

We could help ourselves by studying really hard [RY]

The government can give scholarships to students who are poor [UO]

Rural respondents stress the importance of support from individuals and the government

Parents can help by giving children encouragement to study harder [RY]

Neighbours and friends can encourage

them as well [RO]

Views on how to alleviate poverty iv
Views on how to alleviate poverty IV

  • Work Related: The responsibility of improving the situation of the poor is equally shared among the poor and the government.

  • The government can help by providing more job opportunities to the poor [UY]

  • Government could help by giving bonuses to poor people, maybe during Christmas, New Year or Eid [UO]

Conclusions i
Conclusions I

Previous research has found a shift with age towards more individualistic explanations: we did not.

There was a strong tendency to favour individualistic explanations overall, both in the adolescents and the adult population we studied

3 themes recurred throughout the interviews: hard work, education, responsibility

Conclusions ii
Conclusions II

Hard Work: this is highly valued by the respondents – one of the causes of poverty is felt to be lack of effort, & they believed that through hard work, they could improve their situation.

Education: With education, the adolescents believed that they could secure a better paid job, usually with the government. Education is seen as the primary route out of poverty. Only 1 person considered making use of knowledge from education to improve their situation IN the rural area

Responsibility:This is seen as being shared between themselves and their parents