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Characterizing Poverty
Macro-economics, Poverty, Population and Development
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Characterizing Poverty

Many Dimensions of Poverty
A Web of Causes
Measuring Poverty

Many Dimensions of Poverty

Health outcomes are not always closely correlated with income levels. Life expectancy at birth in Viet Nam (67.8 years), for example, is higher than in Pakistan (59.6 years) although they have similar levels of GDP per capita (5). In many low-income countries, rapid population growth has contributed to overcrowding, unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation, ideal conditions for breeding and communicating infectious diseases. Poor communities typically lack primary health facilities, essential medicines and vaccinations.

The combination of poor general health and high prevalence of disease can extend even to the highest income groups.

Poor health is a cause as well as an effect of income poverty. It diminishes personal capacity, lowers productivity and reduces earnings. The effect of ill health on productivity and earnings is likely to be greater on the poor. This is because, among other things, low-paid, less-educated workers are more likely to do physically demanding and often unsafe work in which they can easily be replaced (6).

High prevalence of disease in a country goes hand in hand with poor economic performance. In countries where a high proportion of the population is at risk of severe malaria, average income is less than one fifth that of non-malarial countries (7).

On the other hand, higher life expectancy, a key indicator of health status, stimulates economic growth: an analysis of data for 53 countries between 1965 and 1990 found that higher adult survival rates were responsible for about 8 per cent of total growth. Research showed how this works: a healthier workforce and less absenteeism improves productivity; as life expectancy increases, individuals and firms have an incentive to invest in human and physical capital; and as workers have an incentive to save for retirement, savings rates increase (8).

ILLITERACY AND INADEQUATE SCHOOLING Illiteracy holds people back even in the most basic day-to-day activities. Inadequate schooling prevents them taking advantage of new opportunities, for example, jobs in the emerging knowledge-based industries. Less-educated people often find it difficult to express themselves outside their own immediate group either in speech or writing, so they are held back from moving into the wider society.

Like other dimensions of poverty, education and health outcomes interact. It is more difficult for illiterate or less-educated people to obtain information about health care, for example, in a form they can use. Poor health and lower survival rates reduce the incentive to invest in children's education.

Figure 2 : Under 5-child mortality rates
Poorest and richest quintiles, selected countries

Click for larger picture
Source : Adam Wagstaff. 2000. " Socioeconomic Inequalities in Child Mortality: Comparisons Across Nin Developing Countries." Bulletin og the World Health Organization, 78 1).

SOCIAL EXCLUSION AND POWERLESSNESS Poverty in another form can be seen in social systems that deny some groups of people the freedom to interact as equal partners in society or assert their personal interests in the wider community. In many countries, not all of them authoritarian, this sort of exclusion prevents large numbers of people from participating in the development process. The bias may come from caste, ethnicity or religion, or it may serve the interests of corrupt elites.

GENDER-BASED POVERTY In many societies, material poverty interacts with gender-based discrimination, so that poor women's levels of health, education and social participation are even lower than their male counterparts'. (Chapter 5 has more detail on gender and poverty.)

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