12 February 2014

Social exclusion or poverty individualisation? An empirical test of two recent and competing poverty theories

In recent years, two new theoretical perspectives on poverty in modern welfare societies have emerged: the perspective of ‘cumulative disadvantage’ and poverty individualisation. Both perspectives challenge traditional class-based poverty definitions. This article notes certain limitations that pertain to the relatively few empirical tests that have been performed to support these theories. The purpose of the article is to demonstrate that the results obtained depend largely on the type of poverty definition applied (income or deprivation), the actual data used (national or comparative) and the extent to which these data represent an observation period that is long enough to provide a reliable basis for testing the theories in question. The article concludes that because only few Danes experience long-term poverty and social exclusion, the combination of class and individual biography is important. In other words, structural conditions and, to a lesser degree, group risks drive individuals to the social margin.

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