A question of values: Conservatives and the culture of poverty Academic Article uri icon


  • Every society has within it some individuals and groups who are successful and some who are less successful. Explanations for these differences range from the political to the economic and from the cultural to the religious. For American conservatives, the differences in individual levels of achievement can be explained primarily in cultural terms. The conservative mythology argues that there are clearly superior and clearly inferior cultural values and that good values produce successful individuals. This article deals with the fundamentally tautological nature of this argument: Why is so-and-so successful? Because he or she has better values. How do we know he or she has better values? Because he or she is successful. After elaborating this intellectual problem, an empirical test is made of the existence of different values among America's social groups. Using census data and national survey data, the personal goals and attitudes of various societal groups and their relative economic accomplishments are presented and compared. This analysis demonstrates that few of the culture-based differences which are asserted by conservatives can be validated empirically. © 1988 Plenum Publishing Corporation.

author list (cited authors)

  • Vedlitz, A.

citation count

  • 3

publication date

  • December 1988