The Causes of Poverty

Understanding the Causes of Poverty

The causes of poverty must be understood from every circumstance surrounding those most afflicted. Not one factor or deficiency can be wholly blamed for those living in the most desperate situations.

If we are to solve the worldwide issue of poverty, every area of life that affects poverty needs attention.


One of the number one ways to end poverty is to provide education and opportunities for skill-building. The Borgen Project reported in 2019 that 161 million children were not attending primary school.1 Without the basic skills of reading, writing and math typically gained in school, a person faces insurmountable odds to better their lives through skilled work that can sufficiently support a family.

Without access to education, the cycle of poverty often becomes self-perpetuating. If a parent is illiterate and no schooling is available to the children, there is nearly no chance of that child growing up to get a better-paying job, which could provide the resources necessary for their children to attend school. One generation of a family without basic education gives birth to the next generation without education.

Disease and Health Care

Just like the cycle of education, disease and lack of health care can keep families from experiencing a better life. Chronic illness and disease still plague large parts of the world. Waterborne illnesses such as typhoid can devastate entire villages. If a father is chronically ill and cannot go to work, the family will slip further and further into poverty. Children are often unable to attend school (if available) when they are constantly sick.

Helping people understand basic health needs and providing medical attention can be bridges out of poverty for many. Water, sanitation and health care all play a part in this continuing chain of poverty.

Environmental Factors

Two areas to consider in understanding what causes poverty are natural disasters and the effects of war. Areas that are already vulnerable in water supply, sanitation and other infrastructures are at high risk for the poverty-inducing effects of natural disasters and war. For example, a country that experiences massive flooding without the resources to address the fallout will find its people with more issues than before the flood. If a country sustains ongoing war and political tension, it cannot supply basic needs to those most susceptible to the long-term problems caused by such conflict.

Regions with natural disasters and political upheaval are known as “fragile and conflict-affected countries” (FCS). These areas are some of the most difficult places to fight poverty. In the global effort to lift people out of impoverishment, FCS regions will often maintain the highest rates of poverty even if other countries attempt to reduce it.3 Examples of FCS regions include South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, chronically poor areas.

Financial Assistance

Even if factors like disease and education are solved, there still remains the issue of opportunity. A poor widow in Asia may learn to read and write and be basically healthy, but she will often still find income earning opportunities to be scarce. She is ready and willing to work yet lacks the opportunity to generate income.

Kalman knew this all too well.5 He was ready and willing to work hard, and did every day to try to make ends meet for his family. He took as many day labor jobs as he could, but it was not enough to keep his three children in school. Despite his willingness to work hard for his family’s future, they were entrapped in poverty.

Through GFA World’s Christmas gift distribution program, however, Kalman and his family received a piglet. That piglet grew up to have more piglets, and they were sold at auction for $37 each, a gigantic impact for a family who had previously survived on an income of $3 a day. They were able to not only give back to their church, but they were also able to help another family in need start their own path out of poverty.

Kalman said,

“This pig has financially helped us in many ways. [By selling piglets], we have bought a goat and chickens, which are also going to be another source of income for our family. We do not have any problems now to pay the school fees for our children and to meet all their needs in school. … We also have purchased roofing sheets to construct our house. … I thank God for all the blessings.”

GFA World’s Christmas Gift Catalog is just one way to help families like Kalman’s and address one of the causes of poverty. Check out GFA World’s list of ways to help break poverty’s grip on millions at and see what inspires your heart. From sewing machines to pigs to water filters, each gift lifts a family from the cyclical causes of poverty into a life of hope and joy.

Learn more about the poverty mindset

1 “Global Poverty 101.” The Borgen Project.
2 “Typhoid and Paratyphoid Fever.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. . Updated November 16, 2020.
3 Burt, Alison, et al. “Eradicating Poverty in Fragile States Prospects of Reaching the ‘High-Hanging’ Fruit by 2030.” World Bank Group. August 2014.
4 “Sustainable Development Goal 1: Progress of Goal 1 in 2017.” The United Nations Accessed January 2022.
5 “Generosity Leads to More Generosity.” GFA World. October 2017.