Department or Program



Poverty is a growing problem in the United States and households headed by single women have the highest poverty rates. Sociologists often emphasize the structural determinants of poverty, yet have discovered that a majority of United States citizens tend to believe in more individualistic explanations—leading the general public to think that the poor should be responsible for helping themselves rather than receiving government assistance. The literature demonstrates that despite low-income single mothers’ experience with poverty, they tend to adopt individualistic ideologies, similar to those of the broader public. This becomes problematic as it further perpetuates socioeconomic inequalities that many sociologists argue can only be resolved at the social level. This thesis updates past research by analyzing General Social Survey data from 2008 and 2010 to determine current public opinion in the United States regarding where to place the responsibility of helping the poor. In that analysis, low-income single mothers appeared to share the same opinions that individuals should help themselves to at least some extent. In addition, qualitative interviews with low-income single mothers who are also Lewiston Housing Authority residents were conducted and analyzed. Based on their responses, it appears that these women agreed that both the government and individual were required to reach economic success, but seven out of eight of the women emphasized the significance of individual agency. Despite this stress on individualism, there were clear tensions between how to distinguish the roles of both government and individual action in assisting low-income families.

Level of Access

Restricted: Campus/Bates Community Only Access

Date of Graduation

Spring 5-2012

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Number of Pages


Components of Thesis

1 pdf file


Available to Bates community via local IP address or Bates login.