Causes of Poverty

What Causes Poverty?

There is no singular, straightforward answer to what causes poverty. Each particular case of poverty has its unique circumstances, and it typically stems from a combination of various factors. To gain a better understanding of the many factors that contribute to poverty, consider the following:

  • Cyclical poverty often comes with a poverty mindset, passed down from one generation to the next, that severely hinders people from breaking out of poverty. These people often make poor financial decisions and may not even dare to hope for a better future.1
  • Lack of education is closely linked to poverty, yet poverty often presents obstacles to gaining a proper education.
  • “Children who grow up impoverished often lack the food, sanitation, shelter, health care and education they need to survive and thrive,” says UNICEF. “Children who grow up impoverished suffer from poor living standards, develop fewer skills for the workforce, and earn lower wages as adults.”2
  • A study conducted in Charleston, North Carolina, determined that “illiteracy is a multifaceted social equity and justice problem that results in less job opportunities and low income, often poverty.”3 In contrast, according to Concern Worldwide, “If all students in low-income countries had basic reading skills, 171 million people could escape extreme poverty.”4
  • Malnutrition feeds poverty.5 Without proper nutrition, bodies and immune systems are weak. Children’s growth, both physically and cognitively, is stunted by malnutrition. According to Reliefweb, “Adults who were stunted as children earn, on average, 22 percent less than those who weren’t stunted.”6
  • Worldwide, 1.1 billion people lack access to clean water.7 Drinking unsafe water leads to a host of waterborne diseases. These illnesses and others keep adults from working and children from attending school.
  • The poor, especially in rural areas of developing countries, often don’t have access to proper health care. Even if they have access, they frequently can’t afford it and must choose between going into debt or suffering from untreated ailments.8
  • “Stability and security are essential for subsistence and, beyond that, economic prosperity and growth,” says the Borgen Project, “It is a telling sign the poorest countries in the world have all experienced civil war and serious political upheaval at some point in the 20th century, and many of them have weak governments that cannot or do not protect people against violence.”9
  • Nearly everyone experiences some sort of financial setback in their lifetime. People living in extreme poverty, however, usually lack the reserves to overcome these setbacks, which can push them further into poverty.10
  • Natural disasters can have devastating effects on the world’s poor. Already struggling to survive, they often lack the resources to recover from such events.11

1 Matthews, Kayla. “What Is Poverty Mindset and How to Get out of Poverty Mentality?” May 7, 2020.
2 “Child poverty.” UNICEF. Accessed October 18, 2021.
3Literacy Impact: Community & Economic Opportunity.” Trident Literary Association. Accessed July 13, 2019.
4 Giovetti, Olivia. “6 Benefits of Literacy in the Fight Against Poverty.” August 27, 2020.
5 “11 Top Causes of Global Poverty.” Reliefweb. March 4, 2020.
6 “11 Top Causes of Global Poverty.” Reliefweb. March 4, 2020.
7 “Water Supply & Sanitation.” World Water Council. Accessed August 11, 2021.
8 “10 Common Root Causes of Poverty.” Human Rights Careers. Accessed October 18, 2021.
9 Williams, Delice. “What are the Causes of Poverty.” Borgen Project. June 25, 2016.
10 “11 Top Causes of Global Poverty.” Reliefweb. March 4, 2020.
11 Williams, Delice. “What are the Causes of Poverty.” Borgen Project. June 25, 2016.