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Poverty refers to a social state characterized by the absence of basic survival resources for specific living standards. It depends on a group of factors that include shelter, clothing, and access to food. Poverty-stricken people suffer from inadequate healthcare, persistent starvation, and lack of clothing. Philosophers state that poverty results from the unequal resources and wealth distribution among nations in the world. Sociologists view poverty as unequal income and wealth distribution originating from global capitalism (Kerbo, 2017). Sociologists have developed various theories to expand on the social condition’s ideal with the sociological description of poverty. To explore the description of poverty in sociology, the paper addresses the various sociological theories on poverty and the sociological claims on US poverty.

Types of poverty

There are different types of poverty, such as relative, absolute, asset, case, concentrated collective cyclical, and income poverty. Absolute poverty refers to the absence of basic resources that help maintain a normal lifestyle. It deals with three aspects, which include shelter, clothing, and food. The characteristics of absolute poverty do not change with location. Relative poverty differs from one place to another because it bases on economic and social contexts on individuals (Di Fabio & Maree, 2016). It occurs when a person fails to access minimum living standard resources such as plumbing and electricity. Income poverty relates to the livelihood of households, which is identified through the census. Cyclical poverty has a time limit and connects to specific social disruptions like recession and war. Collective poverty stretches for a long period, especially in the war zone areas, and characterizes by the absence of basic resources. Asset poverty affects everyone worldwide because it entails a person’s investments, income, and property. Case poverty happens when a family or an individual cannot secure basic life resources due to injury, job loss, or illness.

Poverty in the field of sociology

In the early 19th century, sociologists viewed poverty as a failure in human morals and culture dependency. After that, the sociologists gained interest in social structures as the major determinant of poverty. Therefore, the majority of sociologists in the present day use the idea of relative poverty to define poverty. They determine poverty through people’s living standards in a specific society. Sociologists measure poverty relatively because of the existence of social diversities and economic imbalance in countries. Through the relative concept, sociologists identify poverty according to society members’ social organizations and independent beliefs (Bowles et al., 2016). Sociology deals with resource distribution to identify social equality and inequality, which results in poverty. For instance, some sociologists mention that the prevalence of social class in the UK shows the country’s level of poverty.

Sociological theories used to discuss poverty.

Social theorists describe poverty through economic and social structures. In the 19th century, the sociological thinking of poverty was based on the theory of structural functionalism. The theory views society as an organization with different structures. According to the structural –functionalism theory, inequality and stratification determine poverty in a society (Shildrick & Rucell, 2015). Individuals who belong to the high social class or the top hierarchy of living standards are less poor than those who live below the minimum living standards. The logic of structural functionalism suggests that ascending hierarchy guarantees limited poverty while descending hierarchy results in a high poverty level. For instance, high social class people work in the most important job areas while the low social class people provide labor in the less important jobs.

Max Weber, a famous sociologist, wrote on the structural-functionalism in the 20th century by introducing economic inequality, power influence, prestige, and status as the tools that set a direction for poverty. His view mobilizes people to eliminate poverty by limiting economic inequality, power use, and straightening the social status curve to reduce the gap between high and low social class groups. Apart from the structural functionalism, sociologists also use the conflict theory to define poverty (Duncan et al., 2017). The theory criticizes the ideas of structural functionalism by stating that society requires interdependence for growth and development. Therefore social interdependence reflects on the level of poverty in a society. For instance, the high social class people can give low social class people basic life resources to reduce poverty. This means that a lack of interdependence between hierarchies results in a high poverty level.

What sociologists claim about poverty in the US

Sociologists describe US poverty using the relative poverty concept. They measure US poverty through the number of individuals who do not meet a specific living standard, the poverty level line. Poverty in the US differs from the social settings whereby the black people, children, and women experience higher poverty than the whites. According to sociology, the United States has a high level of poverty because of its economic inequality. The gap between the number of people who live below the poverty level and those living above the poverty level reflects the existence of poverty in the country.



Poverty refers to the absence of basic resources that set a social group’s living standards, such as clothing, food, and shelter. Sociologists define poverty using different theories, which include structural-functionalism and conflict theories. Structural functionalism argues that poverty results from hierarchy, while conflict theory states that hierarchy results in a decrease in poverty level. Sociologists argue that US poverty originates from the economic inequality among women, children, people of color, and the whites.


Bowles, S., Durlauf, S. N., & Hoff, K. (Eds.). (2016). Poverty traps. Princeton University Press.

Shildrick, T., & Rucell, J. (2015). Sociological perspectives on poverty. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Di Fabio, A., & Maree, J. G. (2016). Using a transdisciplinary interpretive lens to broaden reflections on alleviating poverty and promoting decent work. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 503.

Duncan, G. J., Magnuson, K., & Votruba-Drzal, E. (2017). Moving beyond correlations in assessing the consequences of poverty. Annual review of psychology, 68, 413-434.

Kerbo, H. (2017). Social stratification. The Wiley‐Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social Theory, 1-4.



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