Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics

, Volume 23, Issue 6, pp 455–470 | Cite as

On Being Poor and Feeling Poor: Low Socioeconomic Status and the Moral Self

  • Erika Blacksher


Persons of low socioeconomic status generallyexperience worse health and shorter lives thantheir better off counterparts. They alsosuffer a greater incidence of adversepsychosocial characteristics, such as lowself-esteem, self-efficacy, and self-masteryand increased cynicism and hostility. Thesepopulation data suggest another category ofharm to persons: diminished moral agency. Chronic socioeconomic deprivation can createenvironments that undermine the development ofself and capacities constitutive to moralagency – i.e., the capacity forself-determination and crafting a life of one'sown. The harm affects not only the choicesa person makes, but the chooser herself. Thismoral harm is particularly salient in modernWestern societies, especially in the UnitedStates, where success and failure is attributedto the individual, with little notice of thelarger social and political realities thatinform an individual's circumstances and choices.

agency autonomy class health disparities identity justice poverty self-determination social determinants socioeconomic status 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Erika Blacksher
    • 1
  1. 1.Midwest Bioethics CenterKansas CityUSA

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