Poverty in the United States is one of the most widespread social justice issues of our time. Approximately one in six Americans currently lives below the federal poverty line. Given that most of the people living in poverty are women, a phenomenon known as the feminization of poverty, and the fact that sociological studies point to distinct ways in which gender impacts social experiences, more research is needed to examine the ways that women in poverty are affected by gendered expectations for their behavior. While aggregate figures pertaining to poverty are most frequently cited, we know much less about how women in poverty interact with social service agencies and, more specifically, how the interactions between providers and women in poverty may be consequential to women’s experiences. Employing a theoretical perspective based on Fukuyama’s notions of the economic benefits of trust, Hochschild’s findings on emotional labor and West & Zimmerman’s perspective on “doing gender,” I conducted a case study of a non-profit social service agency. Using a series of semi-structured interviews with both providers and women in poverty, I found evidence of several gendered strategies that exert a great deal of influence on interaction in this context. Ways that traits that are assumed to be essentially feminine are displayed by women in poverty, or actively fought against may be helpful or detrimental to their cases respectively. I provide an overview of my findings and discuss implications for future studies and policy, and I argue that the voices of women in poverty must receive greater attention in future discussions regarding the enacting of welfare policies in the United States.


Fisher, Lisa


Sociology and Anthropology


Gender and Sexuality | Politics and Social Change


Poverty, Gender, Social Justice, Interaction

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



© Copyright 2015 Molly Snell-Larch