Study: Poverty Causes Physical Pain

Not knowing where your next paycheck may come from hurts, according to a recent study which found a strong link between financial insecurity and physical pain.

Not knowing where your next paycheck may come from hurts, according to a recent study published in Psychological Science.

Researches looked at six studies, which found a strong link between financial insecurity and physical pain. It’s not out of the question, past studies have shown psychological pain and physical pain share similar pathways in the brain. People suffering from depression and anxiety have more reports of feeling physical pain, as well, such as chronic joint pain, limb pain, back pain, and gastrointestinal problems—just symptoms of a larger problem.

A separate study looked at the effect unemployment had on adults over time. The results weren’t good. The four-year study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, found unemployment caused people’s personalities to shift. (Personalities were based on a test administered during the beginning and end of the study). Agreeableness declined, but with a distinct split between genders in how quickly and at what times their personalities' began to shift.

Author Christopher J. Boyce said that the study showed the “wider psychological implications than previously thought.”

The results of these studies have lead researchers to argue being in a state of poverty or financial instability psychologically compromises us. It's known in psychology as the “scarcity mentality,” which is about the perception that separates the haves and the have-nots. When someone is in a constant state of worry about where their next meal is coming from, mental bandwidth becomes compromised, causing people to make unwise decisions.

“Our effects correspond to between 13 and 14 IQ points,” Eldar Shafir, a psychologist at Princeton University and author of Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, told Rutger Bregman in Utopia for Realists. “That’s comparable to losing a night’s sleep or the effects of alcoholism.” 

Shafir asks us to imagine the experience in a a mental exercise: “If you want to understand the poor, imagine yourself with your mind elsewhere. Self-control feels like a challenge. You are distracted and easily perturbed. And this happens every day.”

No one chooses to live a life of poverty. These studies show how easy it is to become stuck.

So, how do we help people escape?

"Poverty is fundamentally about a lack of cash. It's not about stupidity," economist Joseph Hanlon told Bregman. "You can't lift yourself up by your bootstraps if you have no boots."

Many believe a universal basic income might be the solution. The famous mincome experiment in Canada shows how people’s lives improve dramatically when they have a little extra income to help them when times are tough.


Photo Credit: Danny Lyon, 1942-, Photographer (NARA record: 1709309) - U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Natalie has been writing professionally for about 6 years. After graduating from Ithaca College with a degree in Feature Writing, she snagged a job at where she had the opportunity to review all the latest consumer gadgets. Since then she has become a writer for hire, freelancing for various websites. In her spare time, you may find her riding her motorcycle, reading YA novels, hiking, or playing video games. Follow her on Twitter: @nat_schumaker