13 Oct


There is usually a good amount of talk about poverty and poverty reduction in most developing societies. However, little if at all any attention is paid to the causes and hence the root of this scourge. This article aims to highlight the major causes of poverty so that instead of concentrating on how to reduce it, people can pay attention to the roots and perhaps uproot them before the ‘tree’ grows too big.


To start with, we need to know what poverty is. Many writers assert that there are two main types of poverty. These are absolute poverty and relative poverty.


With absolute poverty people generally do not have what they need. They are short of basic foodstuff, shelter, clothing and adequate or sufficient health care.


On the other hand just like beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, poverty may be viewed to be a subjective term and what is poverty to someone may not be poverty to someone else. What is poverty under relative terms is viewed as being what some people lack in relation to other people. Under relative poverty measures, a mean level of income may be established under which a person may be considered to be living in poverty. Any one living above that level may be considered not to be living in poverty.

Whether it is absolute or relative poverty people refer to in any particular argument or conversation, there are certain general causes of poverty. Below are a list of the top three causes:

1. Illiteracy

Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Another one that catches my attention is Victor Hugo’s saying that “He who opens a school door, closes a prison”. Without education people can not communicate with great effectiveness. They can not share ideas and are taken advantage of. For most people who have developed, they have learnt how to read, how to write numbers and to be disciplined. This has helped them share, innovate and get the best in life. The price; unfortunately, for these who have either refused education or been denied of it, is poverty.

2. Health

Without health, nothing can go well. People can not work, they can not learn and they have to spend huge amounts of money on reviving or trying to revive their health at the expense of other things. Scourges such as cancer and HIV/AIDS have for many years deprived poor people of other basic requirements. With better health, such people may have the opportunity to work harder and spend more on other things that could move them from poverty in absolute terms.

3. Income

Just like Michael Porter argues (in his diamond) that nations have competitive advantage so it is for individuals. A person may be better off in terms of revenue generation solely because of what country an individual is based in. This is the reason some people are always trying to leave the countries they are based in for ‘greener pastures’. If a country created the comparative advantage it needed to retain the best people, maybe just maybe its production capacity would improve and poverty would reduce-a better effect on the production possibility frontier.

The problem with the above causes is that they can also be effects. Whether causes or effects; they are major considerations in poverty and its reduction. This is an argument that would probably be an interesting area of research.

To contact the author-leave a comment and a response will follow. Please note that the email address being shown on other posts may be out of use.



  1. Bo4610 February 2, 2012 at 16:50 #

    I have never thought of HEALTH as one cause of poverty but you are right. Now it makes sense why we filipinos are poor and other countries as well. Having a health care is a topic that the majority of my country men hates. They see health care as another burden.. Well thanks for posting this.

    • praise March 9, 2013 at 05:48 #

      True it is

  2. Keith Taylor August 8, 2012 at 16:06 #

    “The price; unfortunately, for these who have either refused education or been denied of it, is poverty.”

    You, quite obviously, do not live in the real world when you make such a blatantly untrue statement. I know of a great many very well-educated people who are living in dire straits because they are unemployed. They are without work for a variety of reasons but, here in South Africa, we find ourselves with a political problem: most young, white males, regardless of their educational achievements, are unable to find work due to so-called “affirmative action”. Black males, also regardless of their educational achievements and suitability, are placed in positions wholly above their levels of expertise. The results are catastrophic for all concerned.
    Poverty is not a political problem and nor can it be solved with modern, state-run educational facilities or state-imposed curricula. Instead of the nonsense that is hammered into their heads in school, kids should learn self-sufficiency.
    I learned the hard way: on the streets as a teenager. I learned nothing from the hobos and bums who had years of experience in this environment and my schooling was of absolutely no value to me. I spent many long hours in public libraries, reading books about everything I had NOT been taught in school.
    Today, I place very little value in money and if the economy were to collapse right at this very instant, it would would have very little effect on me, if any at all. The reason is simple: I have learned to be completely self-sufficient. I work with nature, having learned natural processes and am able to grow my own food in even the most marginal of soils. I can live quite happily in the bush, not just surviving, but THRIVING where most people would perish in a day or two.
    My education did not prepare me for this: I did.

    • Byrne December 16, 2012 at 11:01 #

      I feel your pain.

      Even though an article like this one talks about ‘general causes of poverty’, the specifics may vary slightly from country to country.

      For South-Africa (from the little I hear about the country) , inequality due to racial factors must be one of the top four causes of poverty. If blacks and whites in SA can learn to not only co-exist but also respect each other, that inequality gap can be narrowed.

      Bravo on the point of self sufficiency though. There is nothing better than that when it comes to empowering someone-teach them how to fish. This brings us back to EDUCATION. The only way one would become self sufficient is by learning all sorts of things.

      When all is said & done, it is easier said than done but it can be done.

      • Deirdre November 28, 2013 at 22:59 #

        I completely agree with your views on public school education. I am American, my 14 year old son comes home with school work that I find useless. In America having a keen business sense is where you make and keep your fortune. They have spent a year educating him on memorizing names of different shapes. Who sets the curriculum for public education?

  3. marielou tinambacan October 23, 2012 at 14:57 #

    Knowing the top three three causes of poverty also calls for responses from dedicated people around the world. Thanks for your concerns.

    • Byrne December 16, 2012 at 11:17 #

      You are welcome. If each one of us did even the minimum they can do for humanity in this regard, the world would be a slightly better place.

  4. Byrne December 16, 2012 at 11:21 #

    You are welcome.

  5. tarcisius mwape April 5, 2013 at 15:03 #

    kindly send me literature reviews pertaining to absolute poverty in Zambia. I will appreciate much.

  6. Anatomy X5 Review April 22, 2013 at 16:25 #

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  7. MAkaula Odwa June 11, 2013 at 23:37 #

    Factors which cause poverty are lack of individual responsibility;bad government policy;exploitation by people and businesses with power and influence even over-population

  8. Fredrick Ondede June 29, 2013 at 09:30 #

    Busy people are never poor.

  9. Pjworldwide August 9, 2013 at 00:39 #

    Of a fact, it really baffles me d day i met a first degree holder from Madonal University arguing wit all his energy dat d MAJOR CAUSE OF POVERTY is notin else but LAZINESS. Although, i neva agreed wit him cos, i knew LAZINESS HAS neva & CAN neva b a major cause of poverty. Even common sense hav already told me. However, afta reading through ur articles, i later discovered dat dat young man was 90% wrong for sporting out laziness as d major cause of poverty whereas laziness has notin to do wit poverty rather dan d 3 major causes u mentioned & explained on ur article, which are: ILLITERACY,HEALTH & INCOME. I would lov to say a very big thank’s for d enlightenment!

  10. Mrs.Joy Agadagba August 28, 2013 at 10:02 #

    It is an interesting article,infact these three causes of poverty are some areas I intend researching on, towards reducing poverty in our society.please send more imformation on strategies for poverty reduction,with more emphasis on health and ignorance

  11. Mike September 18, 2013 at 15:29 #

    It realy helped me

  12. liz October 14, 2013 at 21:23 #

    the three main causes of poverty in Ireland are the government parties
    FINE Fail
    FINE Gael

  13. rhodes November 21, 2013 at 07:32 #

    If you dont understand the problem you aren’t going to find a solution .. It looks like we had a pretty good examples from the 29 resation where the government gave jobs to the people that needed jobs and welfare to the ones that could not work ..for wahat ever reason..

  14. Kim Sayson December 17, 2013 at 01:54 #

    do you think population has a great impact on poverty?

  15. UNIQUE March 17, 2014 at 11:44 #

    The causes are quite intresting and educating.our leaders now should work towards the end of this poverty,cause they are not proper for living.cause life is worth living in a good and conducive state………Thanks for the idea and quote,i mean Nelson Mandela’s quote..

  16. Derpington December 17, 2014 at 21:21 #

    This was extremely helpful for my school project!>:DD:< (-)___(-)

  17. Akot Rosette May 19, 2015 at 01:44 #

    its very true about what is written. However,i feel war as one of he main root causes in today’s world is left out. wars cause illiteracy,poor health and so on.All that people know is hiding for their safety and before they know it,they have lost the chance of getting formal

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