Poverty is a behaviour: An evaluation of Life History theory in Cape Town

Event type: 
Date and time: 
Tuesday, 17 November, 2015 -
12:45 to 14:00
Robin Smaill
CSSR Seminar Room 4.29, Level 4 Leslie Social Science Building, Upper Campus
Abstract / Description: 

Poverty and inequality are generational and increasing, and the implication is that they have immunity to intervention, or the current interventions.  These problems are better conceptualised as behavioural with the lack of wealth a symptom of that behaviour. Life History (LH) theory offers a biological perspective on human behaviour with a focus on resource allocation. The amount of resources that parents allocate to aspects of reproduction differs, resulting in different parenting and that has consequences for the life of the child. LH theory offers an explanation of resource allocation variation and this study uses the CAPS data set to evaluate the theory in Cape Town.

Educational achievement was the outcome variable in a multiple regression model.   The demographic and control variables were gender, race, age and ever pregnant. The variables were wealth and the themes of environment, school, school/parent, and parents. Between two and nine variables were used for each theme and many of variables were composite.

The model accounts for 35% of the variation in educational achievement and the significance is such that the results can be generalised beyond the sample. Parents and school/parents are the dominant factors. The environment and school alone are minor coefficients and wealth is important but with a low significance. There are also important interactions between variables.

This research offers a new perspective on the educational crisis, improving skills, improving health and reducing crime. Biology and particularly life history theory is shown to be a productive tool in understanding poverty and inequality.