Street children sleeping in Mulberry StreetJacob Riis photo New York, United States (1890)

Poverty is the state of one who lacks a certain amount of material possessions or money.[1] Absolute poverty or destitution is inability to afford basic human needs, which commonly includes clean and fresh water, nutrition, health care, education, clothing and shelter. About 1.7 billion people are estimated to live in absolute poverty today. Relative poverty refers to lacking a usual or socially acceptable level of resources or income as compared with others within a society or country.[1]

For most of history poverty had been mostly accepted as inevitable as traditional modes of production were insufficient to give an entire population a comfortable standard of living.[1][2] After the industrial revolution, mass production in factories made wealth increasingly more inexpensive and accessible. Of more importance is the modernization of agriculture, such as fertilizers, in order to provide enough yield to feed the population.[3]

The supply of basic needs can be restricted by constraints on government services such as corruption, debt and loan conditionalities and by the brain drain of health care and educational professionals. Strategies of increasing income to make basic needs more affordable typically include welfare, accommodating business regulations and providing financial services. Today, poverty reduction is a major goal and issue for many international organizations such as the United Nations and the World Bank.



The English word "poverty" came from Latin pauper = "poor", via Anglo-Norman povert. There are many definitions of poverty depending on the context of the situation and the views of the person giving the definition.

Measuring poverty

Percentage of population living on less than $1.25 per day. UN estimates 2000–2006.
Percentage of population suffering from hunger, World Food Programme, 2006
The Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality.
Life expectancy has been increasing and converging for most of the world. Sub-Saharan Africa has recently seen a decline, partly related to the AIDS epidemic. Graph shows the years 1950–2005.
Percentage of people living on less than $1 a day from 1981 to 2001


Fundamentally, poverty is a denial of choices and opportunities, a violation of human dignity. It means lack of basic capacity to participate effectively in society. It means not having enough to feed and clothe a family, not having a school or clinic to go to, not having the land on which to grow one’s food or a job to earn one’s living, not having access to credit. It means insecurity, powerlessness and exclusion of individuals, households and communities. It means susceptibility to violence, and it often implies living in marginal or fragile environments, without access to clean water or sanitation.
Poverty is pronounced deprivation in well-being, and comprises many dimensions. It includes low incomes and the inability to acquire the basic goods and services necessary for survival with dignity. Poverty also encompasses low levels of health and education, poor access to clean water and sanitation, inadequate physical security, lack of voice, and insufficient capacity and opportunity to better one’s life.

Absolute poverty

Poverty is usually measured as either absolute or relative poverty (the latter being actually an index of income inequality). Absolute poverty refers to a set standard which is consistent over time and between countries. The World Bank defines extreme poverty as living on less than US $1.25 (PPP) per day, and moderate poverty as less than $2 or $5 a day (but note that a person or family with access to subsistence resources, e.g. subsistence farmers, may have a low cash income without a correspondingly low standard of living – they are not living "on" their cash income but using it as a top up). It estimates that "in 2001, 1.1 billion people had consumption levels below $1 a day and 2.7 billion lived on less than $2 a day."[6] A dollar a day, in nations that do not use the U.S. dollar as currency, does not translate to living a day on the amount of local currency as determined by the exchange rate. [7] Rather, it is determined by the purchasing power parity, which would look at how much local currency is needed to buy the same things that a dollar could buy in the United States.[7] Usually, this would translate to less local currency than the exchange rate in poorer countries as the United States is a more expensive country.[7]

Six million children die of hunger every year – 17,000 every day.[8] Selective Primary Health Care has been shown to be one of the most efficient ways in which absolute poverty can be eradicated in comparison to Primary Health Care which has a target of treating diseases. Disease prevention is the focus of Selective Primary Health Care which puts this system on higher grounds in terms of preventing malnutrition and illness, thus putting an end to Absolute Poverty.[9]

The proportion of the developing world's population living in extreme economic poverty fell from 28 percent in 1990 to 21 percent in 2001.[6] Most of this improvement has occurred in East and South Asia.[10] In East Asia the World Bank reported that "The poverty headcount rate at the $2-a-day level is estimated to have fallen to about 27 percent [in 2007], down from 29.5 percent in 2006 and 69 percent in 1990."[11] In Sub-Saharan Africa extreme poverty went up from 41 percent in 1981 to 46 percent in 2001[citation needed], which combined with growing population increased the number of people living in extreme poverty from 231 million to 318 million.[12]

In the early 1990s some of the transition economies of Eastern Europe and Central Asia experienced a sharp drop in income.[13] The collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in large declines in GDP per capita, of about 30 to 35% between 1990 and the trough year of 1998 (when it was at its minimum). As a result poverty rates also increased although in subsequent years as per capita incomes recovered the poverty rate dropped from 31.4% of the population to 19.6%[14][15] The World Bank issued a report predicting that between 2007 and 2027 the populations of Georgia and Ukraine will decrease by 17% and 24% respectively.[16]

World Bank data shows that the percentage of the population living in households with consumption or income per person below the poverty line has decreased in each region of the world since 1990:[17][18]

Region 1990 2002 2004
East Asia and Pacific 15.40% 12.33% 9.07%
Europe and Central Asia 3.60% 1.28% 0.95%
Latin America and the Caribbean 9.62% 9.08% 8.64%
Middle East and North Africa 2.08% 1.69% 1.47%
South Asia 35.04% 33.44% 30.84%
Sub-Saharan Africa 46.07% 42.63% 41.09%

Other human development indicators have also been improving. Life expectancy has greatly increased in the developing world since World War II and is starting to close the gap to the developed world.[citation needed] Child mortality has decreased in every developing region of the world.[citation needed] The proportion of the world's population living in countries where per-capita food supplies are less than 2,200 calories (9,200 kilojoules) per day decreased from 56% in the mid-1960s to below 10% by the 1990s. Similar trends can be observed for literacy, access to clean water and electricity and basic consumer items.[19]

There are various criticisms of these measurements.[20] Shaohua Chen and Martin Ravallion note that although "a clear trend decline in the percentage of people who are absolutely poor is evident ... with uneven progress across regions...the developing world outside China and India has seen little or no sustained progress in reducing the number of poor".

Since the world's population is increasing, a constant number living in poverty would be associated with a diminishing proportion. Looking at the percentage living on less than $1/day, and if excluding China and India, then this percentage has decreased from 31.35% to 20.70% between 1981 and 2004.[10]

The 2007 World Bank report "Global Economic Prospects" predicts that in 2030 the number living on less than the equivalent of $1 a day will fall by half, to about 550 million. An average resident of what we used to call the Third World will live about as well as do residents of the Czech or Slovak republics today. Much of Africa will have difficulty keeping pace with the rest of the developing world and even if conditions there improve in absolute terms, the report warns, Africa in 2030 will be home to a larger proportion of the world's poorest people than it is today.

Relative poverty

Relative poverty views poverty as socially defined and dependent on social context, hence relative poverty is a measure of income inequality. Usually, relative poverty is measured as the percentage of population with income less than some fixed proportion of median income. There are several other different income inequality metrics, for example the Gini coefficient or the Theil Index.

Relative poverty measures are used as official poverty rates in several developed countries. As such these poverty statistics measure inequality rather than material deprivation or hardship. The measurements are usually based on a person's yearly income and frequently take no account of total wealth. The main poverty line used in the OECD and the European Union is based on "economic distance", a level of income set at 60% of the median household income.[21]

Other aspects

Economic aspects of poverty focus on material needs, typically including the necessities of daily living, such as food, clothing, shelter, or safe drinking water. Poverty in this sense may be understood as a condition in which a person or community is lacking in the basic needs for a minimum standard of well-being and life, particularly as a result of a persistent lack of income.

Analysis of social aspects of poverty links conditions of scarcity to aspects of the distribution of resources and power in a society and recognizes that poverty may be a function of the diminished "capability" of people to live the kinds of lives they value. The social aspects of poverty may include lack of access to information, education, health care, or political power.[22][23]

Poverty may also be understood as an aspect of unequal social status and inequitable social relationships, experienced as social exclusion, dependency, and diminished capacity to participate, or to develop meaningful connections with other people in society.[24][25][26] Such social exclusion can be minimized through strengthened connections with the mainstream, such as through the provision of relational care to those who are experiencing poverty.

An early morning outside the Opera Tavern in Stockholm, with a gang of beggars waiting for delivery of the scraps from yesterday. Sweden, 1868.

The World Bank's "Voices of the Poor," based on research with over 20,000 poor people in 23 countries, identifies a range of factors which poor people identify as part of poverty. These include:

  • Precarious livelihoods
  • Excluded locations
  • Physical limitations
  • Gender relationships
  • Problems in social relationships
  • Lack of security
  • Abuse by those in power
  • Dis-empowering institutions
  • Limited capabilities
  • Weak community organizations

David Moore, in his book The World Bank, argues that some analysis of poverty reflect pejorative, sometimes racial, stereotypes of impoverished people as powerless victims and passive recipients of aid programs.[27]

Ultra-poverty, a term apparently coined by Michael Lipton,[28] connotes being amongst poorest of the poor in low-income countries. Lipton defined ultra-poverty as receiving less than 80 percent of minimum caloric intake whilst spending more than 80% of income on food. Alternatively a 2007 report issued by International Food Policy Research Institute defined ultra-poverty as living on less than 54 cents per day.[29]


The effects of poverty may also be causes, as listed above, thus creating a "poverty cycle" operating across multiple levels, individual, local, national and global.


One third of deaths – some 18 million people a year or 50,000 per day – are due to poverty-related causes: in total 270 million people, most of them women and children, have died as a result of poverty since 1990.[30] Those living in poverty suffer disproportionately from hunger or even starvation and disease.[31] Those living in poverty suffer lower life expectancy. According to the World Health Organization, hunger and malnutrition are the single gravest threats to the world's public health and malnutrition is by far the biggest contributor to child mortality, present in half of all cases.[32]


Local citizens from the Jana bi Village wait their turn to gather goods from the Sons of Iraq (Abna al-Iraq) in a military operation conducted in Yusufiyah, Iraq. (U.S. Army photo by Spc Luke Thornberry)

Rises in the costs of living making poor people less able to afford items. Poor person spend a greater portion of their budgets on food than richer people. As a result, poor households and those near the poverty threshold can be particularly vulnerable to increases in food prices. For example, in late 2007 increases in the price of grains[33] led to food riots in some countries.[34][35][36] The World Bank warned that 100 million people were at risk of sinking deeper into poverty.[37] Threats to the supply of food may also be caused by drought and the water crisis.[38] Intensive farming often leads to a vicious cycle of exhaustion of soil fertility and decline of agricultural yields.[39] Approximately 40% of the world's agricultural land is seriously degraded.[40][41] In Africa, if current trends of soil degradation continue, the continent might be able to feed just 25% of its population by 2025, according to United Nations University's Ghana-based Institute for Natural Resources in Africa.[42] Every year nearly 11 million children living in poverty die before their fifth birthday. 1.02 billion people go to bed hungry every night.[43]

According to the Global Hunger Index, South Asia has the highest child malnutrition rate of the world's regions.[44] Nearly half of all Indian children are undernourished,[45] one of the highest rates in the world and nearly double the rate of Sub-Saharan Africa.[46] Every year, more than half a million women die in pregnancy or childbirth.[47] Almost 90% of maternal deaths occur in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, compared to less than 1% in the developed world.[48]

Women who have born children into poverty may not be able to nourish the children efficiently and provide adequate care in infancy. The children may also suffer from disease that has been passed down to the child through birth. Asthma and rickets are common problems children acquire when born into poverty.[citation needed]


Research has found that there is a high risk of educational underachievement for children who are from low-income housing circumstances. This often is a process that begins in primary school for some less fortunate children. Instruction in the US educational system, as well as in most other countries, tends to be geared towards those students who come from more advantaged backgrounds. As a result, these children are at a higher risk than other children for retention in their grade, special placements during the school's hours and even not completing their high school education.[49] There are indeed many explanations for why students tend to drop out of school. For children with low resources, the risk factors are similar to others such as juvenile delinquency rates, higher levels of teenage pregnancy, and the economic dependency upon their low income parent or parents.[49]

Member of Dalits in Jaipur, India. An “untouchable” or Dalit is considered outside of the caste system. They are the lowest of the low in the Indian social stratification.

Families and society who submit low levels of investment in the education and development of less fortunate children end up with less favorable results for the children who see a life of parental employment reduction and low wages. Higher rates of early childbearing with all the connected risks to family, health and well-being are majorly important issues to address since education from preschool to high school are both identifiably meaningful in a life.[49]

Poverty often drastically affects children's success in school. A child's "home activities, preferences, mannerisms" must align with the world and in the cases that they do not these students are at a disadvantage in the school and most importantly the classroom.[50] Therefore, it is safe to state that children who live at or below the poverty level will have far less success educationally than children who live above the poverty line. Poor children have a great deal less healthcare and this ultimately results in many absences from the academic year. Additionally, poor children are much more likely to suffer from hunger, fatigue, irritability, headaches, ear infections, flu, and colds.[50] These illnesses could potentially restrict a child or student's focus and concentration.


Street child in Bangladesh

Poverty increases the risk of homelessness.[51] Slum-dwellers, who make up a third of the world's urban population, live in a poverty no better, if not worse, than rural people, who are the traditional focus of the poverty in the developing world, according to a report by the United Nations.[52] There are over 100 million street children worldwide.[53]

Most of the children living in institutions around the world have a surviving parent or close relative, and they most commonly entered orphanages because of poverty.[54] Experts and child advocates maintain that orphanages are expensive and often harm children's development by separating them from their families.[54] It is speculated that, flush with money, orphanages are increasing and push for children to join even though demographic data show that even the poorest extended families usually take in children whose parents have died.[54]


According to experts, many women become victims of trafficking, the most common form of which is prostitution, as a means of survival and economic desperation.[55] Deterioration of living conditions can often compel children to abandon school in order to contribute to the family income, putting them at risk of being exploited, according to ECPAT International, an NGO designed to end the commercial sexual exploitation of children.[56] For example, in Zimbabwe, a number of girls are turning to prostitution for food to survive because of the increasing poverty.[57]

In one survey, 67% of children from disadvantaged inner cities said they had witnessed a serious assault, and 33% reported witnessing a homicide.[58] 51% of fifth graders from New Orleans (median income for a household: $27,133) have been found to be victims of violence, compared to 32% in Washington, DC (mean income for a household: $40,127).[59]

Poverty reduction

Various poverty reduction strategies are broadly categorized here based on whether they make more of the basic human needs available or increase the disposable income needed to purchase those needs. Some basic needs, such as improving access to education, may also help increase income.

Increasing personal income

Raising farm incomes is described as the core of the antipoverty effort as three quarters of the poor today are farmers. [60] Estimates show that growth in the agricultural productivity of small farmers is, on average, at least twice as effective in benefiting the poorest half of a country’s population as growth generated in nonagricultural sectors.[61]

Income grants

Great Depression: man lying down on pier, New York City docks, 1935.

A guaranteed minimum income ensures that every citizen will live be able to purchase a desired level of basic needs. A more specific policy, called a basic income (or negative income tax) is a system of social security, that periodically provides each citizen, rich or poor, with a sum of money that is sufficient to live on. In parts of Namibia, where such a program pays only $13 a month, people were able to pay tuition fees, raising the proportion of children going to school by 92%, while child malnutrition rates fell from 42% to 10% and economic activity grew by 10%.[62][63] Proponents argue that a basic income is more economically efficient than a minimum wage and unemployment benefits, as the minimum wage effectively imposes a high marginal tax on employers, causing losses in efficiency.

In 1968, James Tobin, Paul Samuelson, John Kenneth Galbraith and another 1,200 economists signed a document calling for the US Congress to introduce a system of income guarantees.[64] Winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics, with often diverse political convictions, who support a basic income include Herbert Simon,[65] Friedrich Hayek,[66] James Meade,[65] Robert Solow,[65] Milton Friedman,[67] Jan Tinbergen[65], James Tobin[68][69][70] and James Meade.[65]

The famine relief model increasing used by aid groups calls for giving cash or cash vouchers to the hungry to pay local farmers instead of buying food from donor countries, often required by law, as it wastes money on transport costs.[71][72]

Economic freedoms

In Canada, it takes two days, two registration procedures, and $280 to open a business[citation needed] while an entrepreneur in Bolivia must pay $2,696 in fees, wait 82 business days, and go through 20 procedures to do the same. Such costly barriers favor big firms at the expense of small enterprises, where most jobs are created.[73] Often, businesses have to bribe government officials even for routine activities, which is, in effect, a tax on business.[2] Noted reductions in poverty in recent decades has occurred in China and India mostly as a result of the abandonment of collective farming in China and the ending of the central planning model known as the License Raj in India, where GDP grew slower in the 1970s than the preceding 100 years.[74][75][76]

The unwillingness of governments and feudal elites to give full-fledged property rights in land to their tenants is cited as one of the chief obstacles to development.[77][78] The business environment can be further worsened by the failure of governments to provide essential infrastructure.[79][80]

Financial services

Another form of aid is microloans, made famous by the Grameen Bank, where small amounts of money are loaned to farmers or villages, mostly women, who can then obtain physical capital to increase their economic rewards. For example, the Thai government's People's Bank, makes loans of $100 to $300 to help farmers buy equipment or seeds, help street vendors acquire an inventory to sell, or help others set up small shops. However, microlending has been criticized for making hyperprofits off the poor even from its founder, Muhammad Yunus and in India which has seen a growing wave of defaults and suicides.[81][82][83]

Those in poverty place overwhelming importance on having a safe place to save money, much more so than receiving loans.[84] Also, a large part of microfinance loans are spent on products that would usually be paid by a checking or savings account.[84] Lack of financial services, as a result of restrictive regulations, such as the requirements for banking licenses, makes it hard for even smaller microsavings programs to reach the poor.[85] Mobile banking addresses the problem of the heavy regulation and costly maintenance of saving accounts.[84] Mobile financial services in the developing world, ahead of the developed world in this respect, could be worth $5 billion by 2012.[86] Safaricom’s M-Pesa launched one of the first systems where a network of agents of mostly shopkeepers, instead of bank branches, would take deposits in cash and translate these onto a virtual account on customers' phones. Cash transfers can be done between phones and issued back in cash with a small commission, making remittances safer.[87]


The World Bank says foreign workers sent $328 billion from richer to poorer countries last year, more than double the $120 billion in official aid flows from OECD members. India got $52 billion from its diaspora, more than it took in foreign direct investment.[88]

Cultural factors to productivity

Cultural factors, such as discrimination of various kinds, can negatively affect productivity such as age discrimination, stereotyping,[89] gender discrimination, racial discrimination, and caste discrimination.[90]

Max Weber and the modernization theory suggest that cultural values could affect economic success.[91][92] However, researchers[who?] have gathered evidence that suggest that values are not as deeply ingrained and that changing economic opportunities explain most of the movement into and out of poverty, as opposed to shifts in values.[93]

Increasing the supply of basic needs

Before the industrial revolution, poverty had been mostly accepted as inevitable as economies produced little, making wealth scarce.[1] Geoffrey Parker wrote that "In Antwerp and Lyon, two of the largest cities in western Europe, by 1600 three-quarters of the total population were too poor to pay taxes, and therefore likely to need relief in times of crisis."[94] The initial industrial revolution led to high economic growth and eliminated mass absolute poverty in what is now considered the developed world.[1] Today, mass production of goods in places such as rapidly industrializing China has made what were once considered luxuries, such as vehicles and computers, inexpensive and thus accessible to many who were otherwise too poor to afford them.[95][96] In addition to industrialization, agricultural technologies such as nitrogen fertilizers, pesticides and new irrigation methods have dramatically reduced food shortages in modern times by boosting yields past previous constraints.[97][98]

Providing basic needs

Hardwood surgical tables are commonplace in rural Nigerian clinics.

Infectious diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis can perpetuate poverty by diverting health and economic resources from investment and productivity; malaria decreases GDP growth by up to 1.3% in some developing nations and AIDS decreases African growth by 0.3–1.5% annually.[99][100][101] Nations do not necessarily need wealth to gain health.[102] For example, Sri Lanka had a maternal mortality rate of 2% in the 1930s, higher than any nation today.[103] It reduced it to 0.5–0.6% in the 1950s and to .06% today while spending less each year on maternal health because it learned what worked and what did not.[103] Cheap water filters and promoting hand washing are some of the most cost effective health interventions and can cut deaths from diarrhea and pneumonia.[104][105] Knowledge on the cost effectiveness of healthcare interventions can be elusive and educational measures have been made to disseminate what works.[102]

Strategies to provide education cost effectively include deworming children, which costs about 50 cents per child per year and reduces non-attendance from anemia, illness and malnutrition, while being only a twenty-fifth as expensive as increasing school attendance by constructing schools.[106] A study by Oxford University shows that schoolgirl absenteeism could be cut in half by providing free sanitary towels.[107] Also, when women are given more capabilities and opportunities, they seem more altruistic in helping the family and more likely to prioritize education.[108]

Desirable actions such as enrolling children in school or receiving vaccinations can be encouraged by a form of aid known as Conditional Cash Transfers.[109] In Mexico, for example, dropout rates of 16-19 year olds in rural area dropped by 20% and children gained half an inch in height.[110] Initial fears that the program would encourage families to stay at home rather than work to collect benefits have proven to be unfounded. Instead, there is less excuse for neglectful behavior as, for example, children stopped begging on the streets instead of going to school because it could result in suspension from the program.[110]

Removing constraints on government services

Government revenue can be diverted away from basic services by corruption, such as in Nigeria, where its leaders stole an estimated $400 billion of the country's oil revenue.[111][112] Funds from aid and natural resources are often diverted into private hands and then sent to banks overseas as a result of graft.[32] Preventive measures, according to UNODC, include requiring public officials to disclose earnings and assets and stricter rules on funding to political parties and electoral campaigns.[111] If Western banks rejected stolen money, says a report by Global Witness, ordinary people would benefit “in a way that aid flows will never achieve”.[32] The report asked for more action from banks as they have proved capable of stanching the flow of funds linked to terrorism and money-laundering.[32] A report by the African Union found that more than $150 billion a year is taken from Africa through tax evasion by foreign corporations such that the poverty stricken continent is a net creditor to the rest of the world.[113] It estimated that about 30% of sub-Saharan Africa's GDP has been moved to tax havens.[113]

Developing countries' debt to banks and governments from richer countries are often more than a country can generate per year on profits from exports.[114] If poor countries do not have to spend so much on debt payments, they can use the money instead for basic services such as health-care and education.[115] For example, Zambia spent 40% of its total budget to repay foreign debt, and only 7% for basic state services in 1997.[116] One of the proposed ways to help poor countries has been debt relief. Zambia began offering services, such as free health care even while overwhelming the health care infrastructure, because of savings that resulted from a 2005 round of debt relief.[117]

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, as primary holders of developing countries' debt, attach structural adjustment conditionalities to loans which generally include the elimination of state subsidies and the privatization of state services. For example, the World Bank presses poor nations to eliminate subsidies for fertilizer even while many farmers cannot afford them at market prices.[118] In the case of Malawi, almost five million of its 13 million people used to need emergency food aid. However, after the government changed policy and subsidies for fertilizer and seed were introduced, farmers produced record-breaking corn harvests in 2006 and 2007 as production leaped to 3.4 million in 2007 from 1.2 million in 2005, making Malawi a major food exporter.[118] In the former Soviet states, the reconfiguration of public financing in their transition to a market economy called for reduced spending on health and education, sharply increasing poverty.[119][15][120]

A major proportion of aid from donor nations is tied, mandating that a receiving nation spend on products and expertise originating only from the donor country. [121] For example, Eritrea is forced to spend aid money on foreign goods and services to build a network of railways even though it is cheaper to use local expertise and resources.[121] US law requires food aid be spent on buying food at home, instead of where the hungry live, and, as a result, half of what is spent is used on transport.[122]

Reversing brain drains

The loss of basic needs providers emigrating from impoverished countries has a damaging effect. For example, an estimated 100,000 Philippine nurses emigrated between 1994 and 2006.[123] As of 2004, there were more Ethiopia-trained doctors living in Chicago than in Ethiopia.[124] Proposals to mitigate the problem by the World Health Organization include compulsory government service for graduates of public medical and nursing schools and creating career-advancing programs to retain personnel.[123]

Controlling overpopulation

Some argue that overpopulation and lack of access to birth control leads to population increase to exceed food production and other resources.[125][12][126] The world's population is expected to reach nearly 9 billion in 2040.[127] However, the reverse is also true, that poverty causes overpopulation as it gives women little power to control giving birth, or to have educational attainment or a career.[128] Empowering women with better education and more control of their lives makes them more successful in bringing down rapid population growth because they have more say in family planning.[108]

St. Francis of Assisi renounces his worldly goods in a painting attributed to Giotto di Bondone.

Voluntary poverty

Among some individuals, poverty is considered a necessary or desirable condition, which must be embraced to reach certain spiritual, moral, or intellectual states. Poverty is often understood to be an essential element of renunciation in religions such as Buddhism (only for monks, not for lay persons) and Jainism, whilst in Roman Catholicism it is one of the evangelical counsels.

Benedict XVI distinguishes “poverty chosen” (the poverty of spirit proposed by Jesus), and “poverty to be fought” (unjust and imposed poverty). He considers that the moderation implied in the former favors solidarity, and is a necessary condition so as to fight effectively to eradicate the abuse of the latter.[129]

See also



Organizations and campaigns

In documentary photography and film

Authors with significant work
Significant titles


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Further reading

  • Adato, Michelle & Meinzen-Dick, Ruth, eds. Agricultural Research, Livelihoods, and Poverty: Studies of Economic and Social Impacts in Six Countries (2007), Johns Hopkins University Press, [http://www.ifpri.org/publication/agricultural-research-livelihoods-and-poverty International Food Policy Research Institute
  • Anzia, Lys "Educate a Woman, You Educate a Nation" – South Africa Aims to Improve its Education for Girls WNN – Women News Network. Aug. 28, 2007.
  • Atkinson, Anthony. Poverty in Europe 1998
  • Babb, Sarah (2009). Behind the Development Banks: Washington Politics, World Poverty, and the Wealth of Nations. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226033655. 
  • Banerjee, Abhijit & Esther Duflo, Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty (New York: PublicAffairs, 2011)
  • Bergmann, Barbara. "Deciding Who's Poor", Dollars & Sense, March/April 2000
  • Betson, David M. & Warlick, Jennifer L. "Alternative Historical Trends in Poverty." American Economic Review 88:348–51. 1998. in JSTOR
  • Brady, David "Rethinking the Sociological Measurement of Poverty" Social Forces 81#3 2003, pp. 715–751 Online in Project Muse. Abstract: Reviews shortcomings of the official U.S. measure; examines several theoretical and methodological advances in poverty measurement. Argues that ideal measures of poverty should: (1) measure comparative historical variation effectively; (2) be relative rather than absolute; (3) conceptualize poverty as social exclusion; (4) assess the impact of taxes, transfers, and state benefits; and (5) integrate the depth of poverty and the inequality among the poor. Next, this article evaluates sociological studies published since 1990 for their consideration of these criteria. This article advocates for three alternative poverty indices: the interval measure, the ordinal measure, and the sum of ordinals measure. Finally, using the Luxembourg Income Study, it examines the empirical patterns with these three measures, across advanced capitalist democracies from 1967 to 1997. Estimates of these poverty indices are made available.
  • Buhmann, Brigitte, et al. 1988. "Equivalence Scales, Well-Being, Inequality, and Poverty: Sensitivity Estimates Across Ten Countries Using the Luxembourg Income Study (LIS) Database." Review of Income and Wealth 34:115–42.
  • Cox, W. Michael & Alm, Richard. Myths of Rich and Poor 1999
  • Danziger, Sheldon H. & Weinberg, Daniel H. "The Historical Record: Trends in Family Income, Inequality, and Poverty." Pp. 18–50 in Confronting Poverty: Prescriptions for Change, edited by Sheldon H. Danziger, Gary D. Sandefur, and Daniel. H. Weinberg. Russell Sage Foundation. 1994.
  • Firebaugh, Glenn. "Empirics of World Income Inequality." American Journal of Sociology (2000) 104:1597–1630. in JSTOR
  • Frank, Ellen, Dr. Dollar: How Is Poverty Defined in Government Statistics? Dollars & Sense, January/February 2006
  • Gans, Herbert J., "The Uses of Poverty: The Poor Pay All", Social Policy, July/August 1971: pp. 20–24
  • George, Abraham, Wharton Business School Publications – Why the Fight Against Poverty is Failing: a contrarian view
  • Gordon, David M. Theories of Poverty and Underemployment: Orthodox, Radical, and Dual Labor Market Perspectives. 1972.
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  • McEwan, Joanne, and Pamela Sharpe, eds. Accommodating Poverty: The Housing and Living Arrangements of the English Poor, c. 1600–1850 (Palgrave Macmillan; 2010) 292 pages; scholarly studies of rural and urban poor, as well as vagrants, unmarried mothers, and almshouse dwellers.
  • O'Connor, Alice "Poverty Research and Policy for the Post-Welfare Era" Annual Review of Sociology, 2000
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  • Paugam, Serge. "Poverty and Social Exclusion: a sociological view." Pp. 41–62 in The Future of European Welfare, edited by Martin Rhodes and Yves Meny, 1998.
  • Philippou, Lambros (2010) "Public Space, Enlarged Mentality and Being-In-Poverty", Philosophical Inquiry, Vol. 32, No. 1–2 pp. 103–115.
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  • World Bank, "World Development Report 2004: Making Services Work For Poor People", 2004.

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  • poverty — late 12c., from O.Fr. poverte, from L. paupertatem (nom. paupertas) poverty, from pauper (see POOR (Cf. poor)). Seeing so much poverty everywhere makes me think that God is not rich. He gives the appearance of it, but I suspect some financial… …   Etymology dictionary

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  • poverty — ► NOUN 1) the state of being extremely poor. 2) the state of being insufficient in amount. ORIGIN Old French poverte, from Latin pauper poor …   English terms dictionary

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