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Antecedents to Poverty - 10 Common Causes Related to Poverty

Updated on August 31, 2011

What are the Main Causes of Poverty?

Unfortunately, much of the population of the world continues to suffer from poverty. Even in this age of globalization, rapid technological advances, and mass production from multinational conglomerates, poverty continues to be prevalent in parts of every continent on the planet. This hub briefly discusses some of the antecedents (or causes) of poverty around the world.

How is Poverty Defined?

According to a report from the United Nations,117 countries from around the world adopted the following definition of absolute poverty: "a condition characterised by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. It depends not only on income but also on access to services." This definition was adopted in 1995 following the World Summit on Social Development of held at Copenhagen, Denmark.

Economic Conditions

The first and most obvious cause of poverty is economic conditions. Economic conditions can be adversely affected by events occurring on one or more of four levels including: local, regional, national, and international level. That local economic conditions in area of the world can be impacted by financial problems on the national or international level became more self-evident from the results of the United States' housing bubble crisis in 2008. As Americans apportioned too much of their incomes to housing, they then lacked discretionary funds to purchase other goods and services produced around the world. Less money for imports translated to layoffs in factories and even the eventual closing of factories in places like Cambodia. Moreover, as the price of a barrel of oil increased on the world markets, such international economic conditions triggered inflation in developing countries that had an adverse effect on poor merchants in developing countries who were attempting to eek out a decent living.

Poll on Poverty

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Personal Work Ethic

A second antecendent of poverty is personal work ethic. While most people seem to be willing to put in an honest days work for a fair wage in return, there are those who absolutely refuse to put in the kind of effort that would raise them and their families out of poverty. In essence, they are lazy and poor as a result.

Divorce or Single Parenthood

Another potential cause of poverty is marital separation or divorce. A survey conducted by two professors from UCLA in 2008 showed that in general "Children living with married parents consistently demonstrate a low poverty rate in all countries, and those living with a single female and no other adults have the highest poverty rate nearly everywhere in the world."



A fourth factor to poverty could be one's lineage. Perhaps a person is a hard worker but his or her parents or ancestors before them were not. Or maybe, a person is the descendent of slaves or some other oppressed people and he or she continues to suffer from those prior conditions. This situation continues to plague those who were subjected to discrimination in such places as southern and urban America and black South Africans who suffered under Apartheid.

Government Policies and Corruption

A fifth common cause to poverty is government and governmental policies. Government contributes to poverty in at least three ways including

  1. State sponsorship of corruption
  2. Unequitable tax structures
  3. Failure to provide adequate infrastructure e.g. poor road conditions and healthcare services.

Family Size

This is by no means an endorsement of China's one child policy or abortion on demand. However, another possible cause of poverty is family size. In poor communities around the world, families who tend to have more children have a larger financial burden. More children obviously means more mouths to feed and a need for resources and larger housing accommodations. The demands to care for a large family can cause financial hardship.

Poor Personal Health

A seventh common cause of poverty is poor personal health. A person who has poor health cannot work on a regular basis and thus his or her earning capacity will be limited. Moreover, the high cost of healthcare in various parts of the world including the United States takes away from a person's purchasing power for other goods and services. In the US, healthcare demands are the leading cause of personal bankruptcy.

Civil War

An eighth common cause of poverty is civil war. This problem has been seen in many African nations in the past 20 years or more e.g. in Chad, Sudan, Rwanda, and Somalia. One ethnic tribe or religious faction attempts to gain dominance over another or chooses to avenge past wrongs. They commit genocide or destroy food supplies, causing poverty and even starvation.

Foreign Occupation

A ninth cause of poverty can be foreign occupation. This is especially a problem if the occupiers lack respect or even hate the citizens of the host nation. Durning the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia from 1979 to 1990, the Vietnamese raped the land of many of its natural resources including fish and forestry. What was once bountiful and easily captured now takes much more effort to acquire.


Another common antecedent to poverty is addiction. Such addictions which drain resources or sap energy for meaningful work include:

  1. Tobacco
  2. Drugs
  3. Alcohol
  4. Gambling
  5. Sex


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    • kerlynb profile image


      9 years ago from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^

      Sadly, yes :( In the case of my country, religious groups can influence the votes of their millions of followers. Thus, politicians are very careful not to offend them by introducing population control measures. Religious groups claim that any measures that try to limit population are against the spiritual teachings on procreation. Lack of population control measures, however, result in a string of misfortunes - large family sizes, high health and education costs, unemployment , high crime rates, etc.

    • ecoggins profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Corona, California

      kerlynb, thank you for sharing about your experience. In some cases, tradition (e.g. religion) can also be a source of poverty, can't it?

    • kerlynb profile image


      9 years ago from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^

      I come from the Philippines, a developing country where poverty has been a problem for the longest time. In my country, poverty persists because of government corruption and ballooning population that goes unchecked out of fear of religious persecutions.

    • ecoggins profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Corona, California

      Chanroth and ClaudeV, Thank you both for your comments. Poverty is shocking especially in the case when children suffer from malnutrition and hunger. ClaudeV I have a friend who runs an organization named Canning Hunger. About 20 years ago, he was leaving a fast food joint when he was smacked in the face with the images of poverty in America. He was shocked to find out how many Americans in his local area (Orange County, CA) fell under the poverty line. So, he decided to do something about it. I hope when people read your article they will decide to do something about it as well.

    • ClaudeV profile image


      9 years ago from Texas

      This is a very well put together article. I have been working on the same thing, mine is actually focused more on the poverty in the US. I have certainly voted this article up!

      Chanroth, I totally agree with you and this is something that I have addressed in my article. I hope to have my article out sometime this week.

    • chanroth profile image


      9 years ago from California, USA

      This is a big shock in the butt especially seeing children going through this. Greed and Government policy is what I vote for. I mean in ASIA! AFRICA! they have money but are not willing to spend it for their PEOPLE! They are depending on other country like USA to help them and that is what I see. Maybe other my disagree regarding to my opinion but this is what I so far see.


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