Taking Culture Seriously

Young residents play basketball in the Clifton neighborhood of Staten Island in New York October 25, 2014.

Young residents play basketball in the Clifton neighborhood of Staten Island in New York October 25, 2014. With so many households in America facing destitution and inequality, talk of a “cultural” dimension to poverty may sound like blaming the victim. But as William Julius Wilson and others have argued, we should not flinch from examining the culture of poverty. Neighborhood behavior norms, expectations in a community about the future, and personal values and attitudes can all limit a person’s prospects for upward mobility.

Social norms shape individual habits that, over time, become non-cognitive skills we awkwardly call “character,” including such […]