The silent burden of stigmatisation: a qualitative study among Dutch people with a low socioeconomic position

Audrey M. W. Simons*, Inge Houkes, Annemarie Koster, Danielle A. I. Groffen, Hans Bosma

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

13 Citations (Web of Science)


Background: In-depth qualitative research into perceived socioeconomic position-related stigmatisation among people living at the lower end of our socioeconomic hierarchy is necessary for getting more insight in the possible downside of living in an increasingly meritocratic and individualistic society. Methods: Seventeen interviews were conducted among a group of Dutch people with a low socioeconomic position to examine their experiences with stigmatisation, how they coped with it and what they perceived as consequences. Results: Social reactions perceived by participants related to being inferior, being physically recognisable as a poor person, and being responsible for their own financial problems. Participants with less experience of living in poverty, a heterogeneous social network and greater sense of financial responsibility seemed to be more aware of stigmas than people with long-term experience of poverty, a homogeneous social network and less sense of financial responsibility. Perceived stigmatisation mainly had emotional consequences. To maintain a certain level of self-respect, participants tried to escape from reality, showed their strengths or confronted other people who expressed negative attitudes towards them. Conclusion: Despite the good intentions of policies to enhance self-reliance, responsibility and active citizenship, these policies and related societal beliefs might affect people at the lower end of our socioeconomic hierarchies by making them feel inferior, ashamed and blamed, especially when they cannot meet societal expectations or when they feel treated disrespectfully, unjustly or unequally by social workers or volunteers of charity organisations.
Original languageEnglish
Article number443
Number of pages13
JournalBMC Public Health
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2018


  • The Netherlands
  • Socioeconomic position
  • Perceived stigmatisation
  • Self-respect
  • Qualitative study
  • POOR

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