Staunton, May 3 – Despite the explosive growth in income inequality in Russia since 1991, the views of the Russian rich and Russian poor there are far less different and distinctive than many think, a survival from Soviet times suggesting that no “culture of poverty” has yet been formed there, according to a Moscow scholar.
Svetlana Mareyeva, a scholar who specializes on economics and social policy at the Moscow Higher School of Economics, says that the process of changing those with low incomes into “’a new periphery’” with entirely different views than those with greater wealth has not gone very far.
She concludes that “there is still no serious split in values between the poor and the non-poor in Russia.” Instead, members of the two groups not only share many values but share them in roughly equal percentages. As a result, “it is still early” to speak about “the formation of a special culture of poverty in Russia.”
But Mareyeva notes, there are greater differences in values between the young poor and the young non-poor than there are between the two groups as a whole, an indication that the unity of values likely is a survival of the Soviet past and that such commonality will decline over time.
Drawing on studies conducted in 2003, 2012, and 2013 by the Institute for Complex Social Research and the Institute of Sociology, both of which are part of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Moscow scholar investigated the attitudes of those with low incomes and those suffering from deprivations.
In 2013, the second group, those poor as defined by deprivations, included about 25 percent of the population of the Russian Federation. When one adds those defined as poor by income – and the two overlap but are not identical – she says, the poor make up 30 percent of all Russians.
According to Mareyeva, the poor, regardless of how defined, and the non-poor have extremely similar views on the importance of freedom, material well-being, belief in success only within the rules, recognition of the right of each to keep whatever he or she earns honestly, and belief that one should try to have influence over others.
On one issue, the poor and the non-poor have converged: Over the last decade, she says, the poor have become “less honest,” that, is they say that income from any source is all right even an illegal one. Ten years ago, only about one in five of Russia’s poor agreed with that; now, about one in three do. Over this period, the share of the non-poor who did remained almost unchanged, falling from 29 percent to 28 percent, well within the margin of error.
Other differences between the poor and non-poor exist as well. The poor are far more likely to say that they judge their jobs by how much they are paid, while the non-poor are more likely to say that personal interest in what they are doing is more important. As Mareyeva says, this difference reflects the very different life situations of the two groups.
Another difference Mareyeva found in Russia that will not come as any surprise is that slightly less than half of the poor say that success and failure are “in the hands” of the individual involved, while slightly more than half of the non-poor do. But the difference between these two groups in Russia on this point is smaller than in many other countries.
The same pattern holds regarding non-conformism, the Moscow researcher says. “More than half of the poor consider that it is better to live lie everyone else,” but “more than half of the non-poor hold the view that it is better to distinguish oneself from others than to live like everyone else.”
And she points to another distinction familiar to students of social stratification elsewhere. Seventy-one percent of the non-poor say that equal opportunities should be the priority for their society, while far fewer, 54 to 58 percent, of the poor do. Instead, more of the latter seek equality of outcomes.