Social Stigma can be a Contagion.

Nob Akimoto

Nob Akimoto

Nob Akimoto is a policy analyst and part-time dungeon master. When not talking endlessly about matters of public policy, he is a dungeon master on the NWN World of Avlis

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20 Responses

  1. Avatar Chris says:

    This sort of thing should go on the front page, I think.

    Do you know much about labeling theory?Report

  2. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    It’s not clear, from the article at least, that this has anything to do with stigma. On the contrary, it seems like the recipients of housing aid should feel the stigma of poverty more acutely—in their old neighborhoods they were average, but now they’re much poorer than their neighbors.

    The parsimonious explanation is that living in a high-poverty neighborhood sucks, and moving out makes people happy.

    The reduction in obesity and diabetes is interesting, though. I don’t see that either your theory or mine explains that very well. Maybe they spend more time outside due to lower crime rates, or the stores in the higher-income neighborhoods feature unhealthful foods less prominently?Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      So are we now saying that in addition to a rightful stigma against sloth, there is also now a rightful stigma against poverty itself? (After all, you could have simply said that what they should feel more acutely is simply hatred of poverty/being poor.)

      Granted, we can certainly say that a wrongful stigma can have salutary effects. But what if a wrongful stigma has – *on balance* – positive effects? Is it still wrongful?

      Is the rightfulness of some given stigma or other determined by a utilitarian calculus, or some other? If other, what?

      (I’m not only asking Brandon – I’d be interested in any responses.)Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Michael Drew says:

        I meant “should” in a positive rather than a normative sense.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Brandon Berg says:

          Okay, I see. I’m still interested in those questions if you have any thoughts.

          I think you might have wrong how people experience stigma relating to poverty. I don’t think it’s strictly a matter of comparison with people immediately around you. I think that the middle-class lifestyle (with its myriad specific realizations) is so comprehensively transmitted as normatively desirable that everyone who doesn’t fully share in it experiences countless small – and larger and larger as one’s distance from that life increases – reminders of the ways that one is falling short of it, and the stigma comes in where those shortcomings become harder to conceal. In other words, if you’re poor, I don’t think you feel the stigma coming from other poor people, even if you’re poorer than them. I think you feel it when you come into contact with people who aren’t poor. (I could be entirely wrong about that.)

          If that’s true, then it seems to me that living in a “poor” neighborhood while, in fact, being poor (in other words, not as a conscious choice) would be something that would contribute to the stigma you experience relating to being poor, while living in a “nicer” neighborhood, even being relatively poor among your neighbors, would lessen the stigma you had previously experienced living in a “poor” neighborhood because you couldn’t figure out a way to get to somewhere that didn’t make you feel like that. If you can live somewhere “nicer,” well, then at least you’ve moved that much beyond the poverty level that had been keeping you from doing so before.

          But I’m speculating too.Report

  3. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    “Being in a surrounding that’s materially different doesn’t increase your income,. but it certainly seems to help the dignity and happiness of the families involved. ”

    Put another way: “peer pressure works”.

    Or, even less charitably, “keep up with the Joneses”.Report

  4. Avatar DavidTC says:

    I’ve always wondered about this WRT _crime_ instead of happiness.

    Basically, what we take high-crime, gang-ridden neighborhoods, and instead of spending money trying to reduce crime, we just simply offer the people living there slightly better housing, for exactly the same price, in some _other_ neighborhood. Different neighborhoods.

    Entirely voluntary.

    It would split up gangs, it would result in less innocent victims, it would put troublemakers in area with almost no crime…which sounds bad, but no one is going to put up with their crap there.Report

    • Avatar Roger in reply to DavidTC says:

      Interesting idea, David. Without trying to shoot it down, but just getting a constructive dialogue going..

      Wouldn’t this also spread the criminals?
      And if receiving locations were worried, wouldn’t it cause them to resisted the transplants?
      Would those left behind resemble “Escape from New York” or District 13 dystopias?

      I can envision various work arrounds to the issues, but wonder what others think?Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Roger says:

        Yes, but spreading the criminals around is _helpful_.

        They would end up in areas that are not high-crime areas. Areas that it does not take the police 30 minutes to respond, areas where people do not cower in fear of pointing out the criminals (Snitches get stitches), areas where other criminals do not cover for them.

        You can see this exact thing happen when neighborhoods get together and drive out criminals, finally standing up to them. Turning them _back_ into law-abiding communities, hitting that threshold where people are willing to cooperate with the police and stop crime.

        Except under what I propose, it would happen automatically, without really any risk. ‘Hey, you! You want to move somewhere where the laws are enforced? And there are actual jobs? We’ll cover the difference in your rent for five years.’ (Actually, I think what should happen is that the rent paid is used to rent out the _original_ apartment to keep anyone from moving into it, so the building eventually empties and the government can buy it.)

        And, frankly, I think hardened criminals would realize this too, that moving to some random location without being surrounded by criminals is very stupid, and they would not move. However, without innocent people to prey off of and mooch off of and sell drugs to, the entire system would fall apart. (At which point the government resells the place to a developer or whatever.)

        Also, I don’t think you understood what I was saying. There would not be ‘receiving locations’. It wouldn’t be some sort of collective move, to some other place. It would be that individuals move into individual houses or apartment located wherever the government can find them. (Luckily, we have a _lot_ of empty housing right now.) No one moves as a group, and we’re talking about moving 0.0001% of the population, so the idea that more than two of them would end up in the same place is a bit silly.Report

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