Why Scarcity Sucks
January 12, 2020 3:16 AM   Subscribe

When we experience emotional deprivation in childhood, this feeling of not being important or lovable enough can persist into adulthood as a “deprivation mindset.” We may never feel as if we have enough of the things we need. This sense of insecurity can harm our close relationships. We may expect our loved ones to let us down, never express our needs directly, or choose romantic partners who are avoidant of intimacy.

A scarcity mindset narrows our time frame, causing us to make impulsive, short-term decisions that increase our difficulties in the long-term, like putting off paying credit card bills or not opening bills, hoping they will magically disappear. Poor farmers in India actually perform better on cognitive tests at the end of the harvest season, when they are flush, than at the beginning, when they are running low on money. The effect? The equivalent of a 13-point drop in IQ.

This observation is based on the book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir.

Transcript and podcast Hidden Brain episode called Tunnel Vision on this research.

Previously
posted by Bella Donna (20 comments total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thanks for posting this. It resonated with me.
posted by Miko at 9:30 AM on January 12 [5 favorites]


So, articles like this remind me of how privileged we are, even way down the economic ladder in this country. The kind of deprivation that characterizes billions of human lives on this planet becomes a generational, inborn, series of stress responses, virtually indelible.

Many to most women worldwide, experience emotional abandonment at birth because they are not sons, much less of a certain caste, color, socioeconomic level. Half of the women born world wide, are treated as a nuisance, to become chattel, still.

Avoidance of intimacy, I am reminded of ravens, pecking at starved horse carcasses, in the American Southwest.
posted by Oyéah at 10:27 AM on January 12 [7 favorites]


This also makes me think about the thread yesterday where people were balking at the idea that things like aspirin could change the way you think and feel, when freaking everything makes us change the way we think and feel in ways we're barely cognizant of.
posted by Reyturner at 11:11 AM on January 12 [12 favorites]


I understand why there would be few comments on this because A. It’s a Sunday and B. It’s freaking depressing. I appreciate the three of you who have commented thoughtfully thus far. Seriously, thanks! I read that book. It’s a really useful book. Especially for those of us who grew up poor and understood that we were not stupid even though, on the worst days, it felt like everyone else in the world thought we were. Dealing with scarcity is truly hard. If you haven’t had that experience, then you have no idea how challenging it is.
posted by Bella Donna at 11:57 AM on January 12 [19 favorites]


Also, this is not just about money. It is about all the things mentioned in the book, including food, time, and attention.
posted by Bella Donna at 11:59 AM on January 12 [8 favorites]


From the linked article:

A scarcity mindset narrows our time frame, causing us to make impulsive, short-term decisions that increase our difficulties in the long-term...

Boy, did this resonate with me. After my dad died, my mom was extremely stressed and there was tremendous pressure on me and my sibling to be "easygoing," make quick decisions, and be satisfied with whatever we ended up with.

I never connected my weird tendency to, for example, purchase two or three different versions of an item before finally settling on the one I really want to those experiences before now. It's something that has cost me a lot of time, money, and annoyance over the years.

Thanks for posting this. I see some deeper reading in my future.
posted by rpfields at 12:19 PM on January 12 [11 favorites]


Damn, I needed to read this.
posted by Young Kullervo at 1:00 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


I'm also fascinated by scarcity, both personally and professionally, although I work in animals rather than humans. In the animal literature, there's often a tendency to assume that plastic responses to stress are evolutionarily adaptive--that is, they're things that help individuals survive in rough times. In the human literature, the emphasis tends to be on the pathology of stress: stress reactions as maladaptive responses to bad circumstances.

I think that both approaches have truth in them, is the thing. Some of the counter-intuitive ways that humans react to stress are actually useful: for example, refusing to delay gratification in a world that is unpredictable may instead mean that getting any gratification at all is more likely. On the flip side, we live in an unfair world, and negotiating stressful circumstances is punishingly tiring; grappling with stressful environments does exact a toll on those unfortunates who wind up living through the stress.

One of the things that also bothers me about the way we talk about stress and scarcity mindsets is this assumption, often implicit in the text: "We live in a just and reasonable world. If you perceive scarcity, probably you can make it go away if you can find the scarcity mindset in your brain and shape it into a different mindset." Well, that's objectively not the case for everyone! Sometimes, collective solutions to invoke social change are more useful than individualistic solutions, in part because collective groups have far more power than any individual person might. Your perceptions of the stressors in your environment might be wrong, but they might not be wrong, too. And we really, really need to collectively understand that sometimes, people experience stressors in their environments that there is not a simple answer for catching and ameliorating, at least not without significant money and support.

It's hard because the advice here is good advice! But it's not going to fix the problems that lead to heightened stress, and I think that claiming that this is the only way to respond to or channel stress is something of an oversimplification. Sometimes we need the motivation caused by a scarcity mindset to enact political change to shower all citizens with plenty.
posted by sciatrix at 2:06 PM on January 12 [30 favorites]


Another one of those "well, duh" things that it's good to have laid out, researched, and confirmed.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:09 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


Letting go of the scarcity mindset has been something I've had to work on in my early adulthood. I liked The Surprising Truth of Self Sufficiency by Lynne Twist and put it on my fridge for the past few years. I think I even asked an AskMe question or two about it. It felt like a thorn in my side for my entire life, focusing on saving money (which is such an expensive thing to do)-- it blunted my ability to focus and be creative and comfortable. ... and yet I also felt like being able to make ends meet was like this secret power of survival I had -- almost like in a "I can be cheap in ways you (others) can't even think of" sort of way. But it doesn't make sense to ignore the realities of the abundant environment I currently inhabit and be mired in miserliness.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 4:18 PM on January 12 [5 favorites]


I think this is a huge factor in my strange eating habits. I worry that I won't be able to afford nice food again, or it will rot before I can eat it, or even (bizarrely, given that I live alone) that someone else will eat it before I do. I don't find the linked articles' suggestions for overcoming this very helpful ("Stop obsessing" OK? How?), but maybe the book is better.
posted by Feminazgul at 4:39 PM on January 12 [4 favorites]


I experienced scarcity of attention growing up and its effects keep showing up in so many ways. I've never thought about how it might have similarities to the effects of financial or food scarcity. Thanks for this. It's given me some things to think about.
posted by mcduff at 5:13 PM on January 12 [7 favorites]


Yeah, @Feminazgul, that's totally a thing - researchers have studied this: Longitudinal relationships between financial difficulties and eating attitudes in undergraduate students.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 6:34 PM on January 12 [4 favorites]


Cheers for linking, am def interested. Not posting a proper comment until I've dug in. Something very offputting about the study authors othering of "poor farmers in India".
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 7:12 PM on January 12


Oooooooooh

Well this explains some things
posted by heathkit at 10:50 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


Oooooooooh

Well this explains some things


This
posted by medusa at 7:53 AM on January 13


A scarcity mindset narrows our time frame, causing us to make impulsive, short-term decisions that increase our difficulties in the long-term...

What's going on?
[x] I am in this photo and I don't like it
posted by hanov3r at 8:15 AM on January 13 [5 favorites]


Yo, predatory capitalism! Thanks, I hate it.
posted by ephemerae at 12:07 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


Stupid anecdote: I'm fairly notorious for toting around a Super Big Gulp of diet pop as a replacement for everyone else's coffee cup. A SBG is 44 oz. Unless it's super-hot, I never actually finish it. But the 32-oz. Big Gulp isn't quite enough sometimes. I buy more than I need every day just to be confident I can have as much as I want. Which, yes, I eventually figured out went back to those family dinners where there was one (1) serving for each person, and that was it. It wasn't so much that I was constantly going hungry (any more than the typical teenager is always starving) as that I could never ever be sure I'd be sure I could have as much as I wanted to feel full. A whole slew of bad eating habits arose from that once I was arranging my own meals.
posted by praemunire at 1:26 PM on January 13 [8 favorites]


And we really, really need to collectively understand that sometimes, people experience stressors in their environments that there is not a simple answer for catching and ameliorating, at least not without significant money and support. ... Sometimes we need the motivation caused by a scarcity mindset to enact political change to shower all citizens with plenty.

sciatrix, I cannot favorite your comments hard enough.
posted by Bella Donna at 1:36 PM on January 13 [3 favorites]


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