Global Stratification

Global Poverty

Global poverty is influenced by factors including technology, population growth, cultural patterns, social stratification, gender inequality, and global power relationships.

Global poverty is affects people's quality of life, access to jobs, and even life span. Poverty occurs throughout the world, but there are stark regional differences. To understand and compare levels of poverty, researchers distinguish between relative poverty and absolute poverty. Relative poverty is a measure of inequality based on the standard of living for the majority of people in a society. Within wealthy countries, some groups and individuals are relatively poor compared to others in their society. Absolute poverty is a measure of a person's inability to obtain the necessities of life, such as food, clothing, and shelter. This measure of poverty is useful in discussions of global poverty. People who live in relative poverty in the United States face many difficulties, but American poverty is not the same as the poverty experienced in lower-income countries such as Ghana, Mexico, and Cambodia. International institutions such as the World Bank define extreme poverty as living on $1.90 or less per day. Some economists suggest that absolute poverty in wealthy nations should be defined as living on $4 per day or less. For example, a 2018 United Nations report noted that about 5.3 million Americans live in conditions of absolute poverty, comparable to conditions of poverty in low-income countries. However, the report indicated that the total number of Americans living in poverty numbers 40 million (12 percent of the population) when the definition of poverty is expanded beyond the global measure of absolute poverty. Considering measures of relative and absolute poverty allows researchers to more accurately compare issues of poverty in different countries and regions.

Global poverty is the result of many factors, including new technology and technological change, population growth, cultural patterns, social stratification, gender inequality, and global power relationships. Africa and South Asia have the greatest numbers of poor people. Roughly half the population living in extreme poverty is in sub-Saharan Africa. Most extremely poor people live in rural areas and are under 18 years of age. The causes of global poverty can be organized into three broad categories: regional, community, and household or individual poverty. On a regional level one of the biggest contributors to poverty is vulnerability to adverse shocks, dramatic changes and impacts to the economy. For example, natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and drought can have serious economic consequences, pushing people into poverty. Low-income nations often have greater exposure to these conditions.

At the community level, if solid infrastructure does not exist, recovering from adverse shocks can be difficult. Poor roads lead to geographic isolation, and inadequate hospitals, electricity, and schools can increase the problem. Access to education and good jobs is difficult without schools or electricity. Good governance is necessary to build local infrastructure. Communities that lack strong representation in government are less likely to have infrastructure needs met. Vocal or powerful representatives can successfully advocate for better roads, utilities, schools, and other resources for their communities. This success is often based on social networks and social capital (resources that grant access to power and opportunity). Thus, social networks and social capital can be key factors to breaking out of poverty. Good representation or connections to regional lawmakers or decision makers is essential to combating poverty at the community level.

Geographic isolation, poor governance, low levels of education, and lack of employment opportunities also contribute to poverty. These factors can have a domino effect, creating greater inequalities. For example, people living in geographically isolated communities often have limited access to education. This limits their opportunities for employment, resulting not only in low-income levels throughout the community but also in low levels of social and political influence. Such communities have less access to policy makers and are thus less able to ensure their needs are considered.

Household and individual factors contribute to poverty as well. Households with older heads tend to do better economically, as do households with fewer children. In addition to age, individual factors such as health, nutrition, and education contribute to poverty. Individuals in nations where there is less or unequal access to health care, education, and adequate nutrition are at greater risk for poverty.
Poverty persists where patterns of inequality already exist in communities. These patterns accumulate and create a domino effect of structural inequalities.