Decades ago, it was believed that human beings based their resource management basically on an economic calculation based on costs and benefits . According to this idea, everything we do in relation to others responds to a prior reflection on what we lose or what we gain by choosing each option.
However… where is the altruism in this formula? If the conception of the human mind based on economic calculations has lost strength, it is partly because many of the things we do when interacting with each other have more to do with empathy, feelings of identification and the way we conceive of coexistence than with the will to gain power and not lose what we have. And the fact that the people who have less are the most altruistic is an example of this.
Altruism in people with less money
If we were to act in a totally rational way and following economic calculations (i.e., guided by the logic of numbers), we would have to expect that the richest people would be the ones most willing to be altruistic and give up part of their belongings, and that the poor would be the most reluctant to share, since they are in a hurry to secure their livelihoods.
However, several studies indicate that, beyond the theory, in the real world it is rather the same: people with less money give more to others , and they do it voluntarily.
For example, research published in 200 in the journal Health Psychology found that people with a lower purchasing power (determined by variables such as income level, education and type of trade or profession) were more willing to give money to charitable causes, as well as tending to adopt a more open and receptive attitude towards strangers who needed help.
On the other hand, the tendency of people from poorer socio-economic backgrounds to be more altruistic has been recorded even among preschool children. How can this be explained? Certainly, not by paying attention to rationality, understood as a series of strategies to conserve what one has and to earn more. Let’s see why.
Less resources, more social asset
In practice, those who have few material resources do not limit themselves to living the life of the middle or wealthy classes but with far fewer means: if the way of living is qualitatively different, and the way in which social relations are established is one of these differences.
Poverty is the default situation in which the majority of the population has lived over the centuries. Wealth, or the ability to live without major economic concerns, is the exception, not the rule. Therefore, large communities of people have seen themselves in poverty at the same time , and through the generations have done something about it: to associate, to create neighbourhood and protection networks, which can extend to people from other communities.
As there are no habits that in the long run do not change ideas, communities of people with few resources have been internalizing the idea that individualism is something harmful that brings problems in the face of the threat of extreme poverty, so it is necessary to adopt a collectivist mentality. Hence, the habit of helping others becomes perfectly expected in any context where someone needs help. This is a cultural trend and one of identification among equals, a logic necessary for groups of people without resources to be maintained and stable .
In contrast, middle or upper class people living in cities have little reason to create complex social bonds of solidarity, so aid is seen more as a personal decision, unrelated to the functioning of the community.
It is advisable not to mythicize
This kind of psychological phenomenon can lead us to think that people from humbler origins live a more authentic, honest or even happy life: in the end, they would more often behave in the way we identify as ethically correct. However, it is worth remembering that poverty has very negative impacts on all areas of life : health, education and ability to raise children.