On Social and Psychological Consequences of Prolonged Poverty–A Longitudinal Narrative Study From Finland


  • Anna-Maria Isola
  • Lotta Virrankari
  • Heikki Hiilamo


By means of qualitative longitudinal material, this article explores meaningfulness during persistent monetary poverty through an integrative framework, which builds upon conceptualisations of meaning in life (coherence, significance, and purpose) and modes of being (labour, work, action). The material consists of 36 autobiographical accounts and their follow-up accounts from 2006 and 2012. The analysis reveals that in the developed welfare state of Finland, prolonged monetary poverty is connected with the propensity for incoherence and a feeling of insignificance, particularly if life is governed by a vicious cycle of scarcity. Prolonged poverty 1) turns aspirations from long-term to short-term goals and frames life as something characterised by negative anticipation and a circular sense of time. Life primarily takes place in private space. It also 2) weakens the sense of belonging and 3) reduces public participation. These are the domains where the meaning in life is constructed, deconstructed, and reconstructed. In a developed welfare state, the comprehensive and manageable social security scheme maintains coherence, yet universal social policy actions that enable participation in public activities nourish a sense of significance.