Religion, Romance, and Work: Sources of Resilience among Low-Income Men

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Religion, Romance, and Work: Sources of Resilience among Low-Income Men

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Title: Religion, Romance, and Work: Sources of Resilience among Low-Income Men
Author: Fosse, Nathan Edward
Citation: Fosse, Nathan Edward. 2012. Religion, Romance, and Work: Sources of Resilience among Low-Income Men. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: Despite a resurgence of qualitative research on the cultural aspects of poverty, very few studies have examined how low-income men find resilience in response to the risks of living in severe disadvantage. Moreover, virtually no research has compared how resilience strategies differ between low-income black and white men. These omissions are particularly surprising since low-income men disproportionately experience the life-altering risks of extreme disadvantage, such as criminal punishment, chronic unemployment, drug abuse, and poor physical health. To address these limitations, I draw on recent insights from developmental psychology and from cultural sociology to examine the sources of risk and resilience among black and white men living in severe poverty. Drawing on several years of ethnographic fieldwork, statistical analysis of qualitative data, and on over ninety in-depth interviews with low-income men in Greater Boston, I find striking racial differences in the sources of risk: while white men are more likely to report having a mental health diagnosis and an addiction to opiates, black men are more likely to report living in extremely poor, racially-segregated neighborhoods. Although exposed to different risk factors, I find surprising similarities across racial groups in the sources of resilience: both black and white men respond to the life-changing stressors of extreme poverty by constructing narratives around religious redemption, enduring romantic relationships, and work-related aspirations. Notwithstanding these similarities, I find that white men report greater disaffiliation from organized religion and black men a narrower range of entrepreneurial and athletic vocations. I show that these racial differences in resilience are due to the steep decline in religious affiliation with the Catholic Church among the white poor and enduring economic segregation of the black poor, respectively. In summary, black and white men cope with the risks of living in severe poverty in broadly similar ways: by appeals to religion, long-term romantic relationships, and work; that is, the very ideologically-dominant American institutions from which they are often claimed to be disconnected culturally.
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