Poverty in Russia looks different today from how it was a decade ago. According to Svetlana Mareeva, it is not just about the number of Russians who are poor, but that Russia's low-income segments are becoming a marginal subculture with attitudes and values different from the rest of society. Some of her findings are presented below.
Mareeva’s study is based on empirical evidence collected from several representative national surveys conducted in Russia in 2003, 2012, and 2013 by the RAS Institute of Sociology’s Centre for Comprehensive Social Research. Some six thousand people were surveyed in total. By defining poverty either as income below the subsistence minimum (9% of all respondents) or as deprivation, the researchers grouped the poor into two categories. They further identified 11 basic types of deprivation characteristic of poverty in Russia, such as not being able to afford to eat properly or buy new clothes, or living in a tight space with less than 12 square meters per member of the household.
The study found that the latter category of the poor (the ‘deprived poor’) accounted for 25% of Russia's population in 2013. Mareeva also notes that the two categories of the poor are complementary, rather than overlapping, and collectively stand at 30% of the Russian population.
The researchers contrasted the poor (both categories) with non-poor, defined broadly, according to Mareeva, as "literally all Russians who do not fall into the 'poor' category, without any additional criteria, including people with relatively low incomes, middle incomes, and upper-middle incomes."
Attachment to the principle of making money at any cost reflects an important value shift among the Russian poor over the past decade.
In 2003, just 23% of the 'low-income poor' and 19% of the 'deprived poor' agreed that any type of income is acceptable, but in 2013, the proportion of poor people who agreed with this statement increased to 35% and 32%, respectively, while virtually no change of attitude towards dishonest income was observed among the non-poor over the same period – the proportion of non-poor Russians who agreed that any income is acceptable was 29% in 2003 and 28% in 2013.
Mareeva argues that a marked increase in the share of poor Russians who will accept any type of income, without a similar value shift in the general population, suggests that the poor feel disillusioned about opportunities for them to improve their lives through honest effort.
Other value differences between poor and non-poor Russians concern their work motivation; the study reveals that such differences are particularly evident among employed respondents.
Poor Russians are much more likely than non-poor Russians to consider earning money their main motivation for work: 58% of the working 'low-income poor' and 55% of the working 'deprived poor' agree that the most important thing about a job is how much it pays. In contrast, interest in the work itself is the main motivation for most non-poor respondents.
"This shows that poor people's values are affected by their own life situation and by the hardships they struggle with in their daily lives," Mareeva explains.
Both academic and public debates today focus on new values and value transformations in modern societies; nonconformism, internal locus of control (including, in particular, taking responsibility for one's livelihood), preference for equal opportunity over equal income istribution are norms and values usually associated with modern society.
Mareeva examined whether these values are less relevant for poor Russians than for non-poor Russians and found that the internal locus of control and other values characteristic of modernity are less typical for both groups of the poor. Just 46% of the poor – but more than 50% of the non-poor – agree that success and failure are in one's own hands. Along similar lines, poor people are less likely to value nonconformism and equal opportunity – while 71% of non-poor Russians favour a society of equal opportunity over a society with equal income distribution, just 58% of the 'deprived poor' and 54% of the 'low income poor' share this attitude.
Poor Russians are thus found to perceive values and attitudes associated with modernity as less relevant.
Mareeva notes, however, that Russia’s poor are a diverse group and include people with both modern and traditional values – eg, younger people are more likely to share modern society values than older age groups.
Despite the observed differences, the study did not find any substantial split over values between the poor and the non-poor in Russia, and it may be too early yet to speak about a culture of poverty emerging in Russia.
Mareeva notes, however, that differences between poor and non-poor Russians are increasingly noticeable and may eventually result in a subculture of poverty perpetuating the marginality of Russia's poor.