Effects of Growing Up Poor – Both Bad and Good

Poverty affects all aspects of one’s life. Being poor is hard for anyone at any age. However, it can be especially hard for children as it can affect their physical health as well as their outlook and attitudes towards life. Of course, the effects of growing up poor vary from person to person. Everyone who grew up feeling poor most certainly has stories of how growing up poor influenced their development for good and for bad.

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What is Poverty?

Being poor is a relative concept. The government, defines poverty based on specific income brackets. However, what is considered to be poor in the United States, a first world country, is definitely be a different experience than being poor in a third world country. For example, the poor in the United States will likely have access to running water and a flushable toilet. On the other hand, the poor in third world countries might not.

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Effects of Being Poor – Possible Even with Relative Poverty

But even in the United States, someone can feel poor compared to someone else. This is true even if the household income is above the federally defined poverty income brackets. For example, if someone from the middle class has to interact with billionaires on a regular basis, that individual will likely feel poor. This is because the huge difference in lifestyles will likely make the middle-class individual feel out of place.

Regardless of what definition of poor you choose to go by, the effects of growing up poor are many and long lasting.

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My Take on the Effects of Growing Up Poor

Following are a few of the effects of growing up poor based on my own perspective. This perspective is from the viewpoint of growing up financially disadvantaged in the United States. To give some insight into my situation, from the time I was born until early adulthood, I shared a very small living space with the rest of my family.  My family did not have a car, or at least not a reliable one, for most of my childhood years. And having enough money for food, clothing, and gas was oftentimes a struggle. There were definitely periods of time that my family met the government specified levels of poverty.

My sense of being poor was likely aggravated by the fact that I was oftentimes surrounded by others who seemed to have more than me. However, I realize that I was nowhere as poor as those who experience poverty around the world. Despite having scarce resources, my family was able to get by one way or another by helping each other. I was also fortunate to have had the opportunity to get a good education, and to have loving, responsible parents. Furthermore, I was also lucky to have been able to surround myself with peers who were, for the most part, a positive influence.

In short, I realize, that I was incredibly fortunate despite sometimes feeling financially disadvantaged. Nonetheless, I believe that my experiences of feeling poor helped shape my life and my character and that there are others who can relate to the following things I consider some of effects of growing up poor.

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Limited Relationships

My parents stretched themselves financially to send me to a private elementary school. For high school I went to a competitive public school. In both cases, my peers came from relatively affluent families. The lifestyle differences between my peers and me left us few things in common. In fact, I often could not relate to things they spoke about.  Thus, an effect of growing up poor for me was a hard time relating to my more financially well off peers.

At the same time, I also learned that I had some advantages over your more affluent peers. For example, some of the parents of my more affluent peers put a lot of pressure on my peers to follow a certain career path. I am glad I did not have such pressure from my parents. On the other hand, I did feel internal pressure to succeed to create a better life for my family.

One of the effects I personally experienced due to growing up poor is that I would not partake in as many social activities or extracurricular activities as my peers. After all, being social and partaking in extracurricular often required expenses. And because I could not afford extra expenses, I could not afford to partake in these things. This was true during school years and during and after college.

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The opportunity

A positive effect of feeling out of place and having limited participation in social and extracurricular activities was that it helped me focus on my studies. I also learned to became comfortable with being alone. While it is good to have a few close friends or relatives, learning to be alone is an important skill in life. After all, there are many times in everyone’s lives that they will not have someone to turn to.

If you are comfortable being by yourself, you are less likely to fall into peer pressure or pretend to be someone you are not. And even if you do not have close friendships with peers, you can seek positive role models, and reaffirming messages. Some of the positive role models I identified were teachers. And some of the positive messages I found came via the messages I found in books, music, or even television.

Limited Academic Opportunities

Another effect of being poor is that it makes it harder for you to achieve academically. This is because, if you are poor, you might live in a neighborhood where the public schools might not be the best. It might also be hard for your parents to afford sending you to a private school.

But even if you do get the opportunity to go to good schools, as I had the fortune to do so, you likely cannot get private tutors as many of the children of affluent children can. You likely also can’t ask your parents for help if they themselves did not finish their education or are not fluent in the English language.

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Furthermore, if you are poor, your family might be struggling to make ends meet. This means that you might find the need to get job, or to help out parents in other ways so your parents can take on more than one job. It might also mean that you opt to go to a local college to save money and continue to help you family. These are things that more affluent peers would might ever have to worry about or consider.

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The opportunity

Even though overcoming the academic challenges as a poor child are hard, the experience can potentially help you become resourceful and self-efficient. I believe my own experience helped me become more responsible than my peers at a young age. I had to work very hard to excel academically. And I had to figure how to do that on my own.

Having had to help my family out as well, I also learned how to work as a team and that it important to look after each other. This is a skill that comes in handy in all relationships in life—whether one’s own family or in the work environment.

Limited View of Money

An effect of growing up poor is that you were likely raised with a limited view of money. This is because, if you grow up poor, it is likely that you might not had the opportunity to learn about passive income. After all, not many poor people have even thought that investing or creating a business is something achievable for them. Instead, poor people are more likely to have been taught the importance of hard work and saving. However, while hard work and saving pay off to a certain extent, they do not allow you to achieve limitless income as is possible through passive income.

Fortunately, poor people can eventually learn the concepts of passive income, as I did. If not in school, this might happen through reading, or by interacting with people who are in a better financial position than you. Learning the concepts will take deliberate research and work. And you will have to start taking steps to establish the passive income streams—sometimes with little or no help.

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The opportunity

Even though the understanding of income that you were taught as a poor child might have been limiting, the emphasis on work ethic you likely were taught is an indispensable skill in life. Even after learning how to establish passive income streams, having a strong work ethic will help you in various areas in life.

You will also have a first hand view of why it is often difficult for poor people to get into passive money streams. This will hopefully be more compassionate human. This is a plus as sometimes those who have always been affluent lack empathy for those who have not been as lucky as them financially.

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Limited Connections

Another effect of growing up poor that I learned is that you don’t have as many connections as those who are more affluent. For example, as my parents did not go to college, nor did any of their peers, I did not have the advantage that a number of my peers did in terms of being able to get internships, jobs referrals, or counseling, through family connections. As a result, I felt myself to be at a disadvantage in terms of career opportunities.

If you find yourself if the same situation, first of all acknowledge to yourself that you are at a disadvantage. Take time to explore the various career counseling and opportunities that your school might offer. Participate in internships and courses of things that you might be interested in. You will need to prepare and knock on a lot of doors. But if you have a strong resume and skills, you should hopefully eventually find a good opportunity.

Furthermore, if you are poor, you want to make sure that you are make decisions to overcome poverty. For example, it might make sense for someone form affluent families to pursue less secure jobs. However, this might not be the best route for you professionally as it will make it hard to get out of poverty.  

If it your interests do not translate into job security, it might be best to pursue them as hobbies on your own time. Assuming this is your passion, you will not mind investing your extra time on this. And if you want to turn those into your profession, you can do that after you have otherwise achieved financial security.

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The opportunity

In a way, having less opportunities and connections as an effect of growing up poor teaches you to be practical. You learn to be resourceful and learn things for yourself. You learn that you can’t always get what you want, or at least not as when you’d like them.

On the other hand, you learn that there is a lot you can achieve by working very hard. Also, you learn that you often need to do work that you might not necessarily consider your passion. By necessity, you will learn how to be good at multiple things. Thus, a potential effect of growing up poor is you learn to be flexible and perseverant.

Limited Health Opportunities

If you are poor, it is more likely that you won’t have the chance to eat as healthy as your more affluent counterparts. After all, nutrition supplements are expensive. And buying healthy foods as salads is oftentimes more expensive and less filling than getting an inexpensive sandwich at a fast food restaurant.

Furthermore, if you are poor you also might not have access to a gym of gym equipment. And you might not be able to participate in the extracurricular activities as your friends.

And, as if that were not enough, if you are trying to get ahead academically and/or working a job, sleep might take a back seat.

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The opportunity

These were all issues I dealt growing up poor. Fortunately, as I grew up, I learned the importance of health and the fact that poor people are at risk of being less healthy. Even though money was an obstacle, I learned to value exercise, a healthy diet, and sleep.

Admittedly, sometimes it was impossible to work on any or all of these aspects. But I kept them in the back of my mind for whenever things became easier. Of course, things became easier as my financial situation improved.

The Effects of Growing Up Poor – They Can Be both Good and Bad

As I mentioned, in spite of having thought of myself as poor while growing up, I was fortunate to get a good education, and to have good parents and peers. Nevertheless, I understood from an early age that, being poor, I was at a disadvantage, and would have to work very hard to get ahead. I took every opportunity to work on things that would hopefully bring me a better future.

While I might have sometimes felt bad about being poor, in the end I was able to learn from the experiences. It might have been harder for me to get access to opportunities, to be social, to learn, to be smart with money, and make healthy choices. However, overcoming these challenges helped me learn to be resourceful, self-sufficient, compassionate, hardworking, perseverant, and creative. While this post describes my own perspective on the effects of growing up poor, I believe a lot of people who grew up in a similar situation can identify with at least some of these experiences.


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Effects of Growing up Poor