When considering poverty, our national conversation tends to overlook systemic causes. Instead, we often blame the poor for their poverty. Commentators echo the claim that people are poor because they have bad self-control and therefore make nearsighted choices. But psychology research says the opposite might be the case: poverty makes it hard for people to care about the future and forces them to live in the present.
As a researcher who studies goals and motivation, I wanted to know how self-control works and if science can help us get better at it. Poverty seemed like a good place to start, because greater self-control could be especially helpful there. In fact, the federal Administration for Children and Families is adding character-skills training to its programs in efforts to improve self-control among children.
But as I started this work I was surprised by all the reasons that it’s so hard for people in poverty to have good self-control.… Read the rest