Subject Area



A study to assess attribution theory and the work done by social workers with wealthy and poor families was performed using two vignettes identical in information suggesting abuse, with one described as a wealthy family and the other a family living in poverty. Attribution theory suggests that humans label and assume certain traits to be true of different persons based on their status in our society. A person with a wealthy status may be viewed by their social worker as less likely to be abusive to their children because of their status, while a person living in poverty would be assumed to be more likely because of their status. So, it was hypothesized that social workers reading the wealthy vignette would note less of a concern about the observed potentially abusive situation in comparison with the responses given to the social workers reading about the same situation occurring in a family living in poverty. The vignettes were randomly distributed to 29 students and 14 professional social workers. Who were then asked to respond to the statements about the children in the family and the types of action the social worker should take, based on the suggested physical abuse in the vignettes. Findings do not show a statistically significant difference between responses given by social workers with the wealthy vignettes and social workers with the poor vignettes. However, differences in the mean responses of the wealthy and poor vignettes showed that the social workers who responded to the poor vignettes may have felt more urgency to follow up on the observed behavior because of potential abuse. This may be because of daily stressors that are typical of a family living in poverty. Parents living lives in poverty experience daily stressors and the emotions that accompany them may result in abusive or neglectful behavior. Although this may be true of poverty it does not always predict abuse and so social workers need to be aware of the influence of attribution theory on their work.


Providence College


May 2008









A project based on independent investigation, submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirement for the degree of Bachelor of Arts in Social Work. Originally written for the Theory Practice Seminar, Providence College, 2008.

Included in

Social Work Commons