Theories of Poverty: Findings from Textbooks on Human Behavior and the Social Environment


Social work is distinguished from other helping professions and social science disciplines by its primary concern with poverty. It is unclear, however, how well social work students understand various theories of poverty or how this understanding informs their practice with those who live in poverty. This article attempts to begin answering this question through an analysis of poverty content in 14 frequently assigned textbooks in Human Behavior and the Social Environment (HB&SE) courses. The four criteria for assessment are as follows: (1) The context in which poverty is discussed; (2) The extent to which the theme of poverty is diffused throughout the textbook; (3) The extent to which poverty is viewed in terms of the interaction between human behavior and the social environment; and (4) The extent to which poverty is described as a universal condition. In general, the 14 textbooks devote little space to poverty content and fail to address these four criteria. The analysis concludes with recommendations to help social work educators incorporate more poverty content in their HB&SE curriculum.

Lehning, A.J.
Vu, C.
Pintak, I.
Publication date: 
October 12, 2008
Publication type: 
Journal Article