• Video
  • 5 mins
  • Level 1: Introductory

Why Poverty: Poor Us

Updated Thursday 6th September 2012

Do we know what poverty is and what's been achieved so far in our attempts to end it? Delve into the stats to find out

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How can poverty be reduced?

Narrator

How does urbanisation play a role in poverty?  Watch this video to find out. 

Let’s start by looking at a number of factors thought to reduce poverty, by using the UN Development Programme’s Public Data Explorer tool.

These factors are education, whether a person lives in the countryside or a town, so the level of urbanisation, and their health.  Let’s start by looking at the relationship between education and poverty.  We’ll use the percentage of the population of a country in poverty as our measure for poverty, and the average number of years of schooling as our indicator for education.  Each point in the diagram that’s generated represents a country.  The size of the point reflects the size of the population, the bigger the point the bigger the population, and the colour relates to the level of human development, with red most developed and blue least developed - something we’ll consider later.

What we see when we plot these two indicators diagrammatically is that there’s a relationship between them: as the number of years of schooling increases, the percentage of the population in poverty declines.  This supports what we probably thought that education is important for reducing poverty, because the more schooling an individual gets the better educated and skilled they’ll be, and potentially more productive.  This means they’re more likely to be able to lift themselves and their family out of poverty.  But the diagram can’t prove that education alleviates poverty.  It could be the other way round, or it could even be down to chance, but the data does suggest a reasonably strong relationship.

Now let’s look at the relationship between urbanisation and poverty.  We’ll use the percentage of the population of a country in poverty again as our measure for poverty and the percentage of the population living in an urban area to represent urbanisation.  What we see when we plot these two indicators diagrammatically is that there’s also a relationship between them.  As the percentage of the population living in towns and cities increases, the number of people in poverty decreases.  The level of urbanisation is important, because moving to the towns and cities offers more opportunities for productive work than in the countryside, especially in factories.  Increasing urbanisation also suggests the country is industrialising, which is likely to push up average incomes.  But, as with our last diagram, it can’t prove that urbanisation alleviates poverty.  It could be the other way round or it could even be down to chance.  But the data does suggest a relationship between poverty and urbanisation, although weaker than the relationship between poverty and education.  This is because the points are more scattered in this diagram than the first.

Now let’s look at the relationship between health and poverty.  We’ll use the percentage of the population of a country in poverty again as our measure for poverty and the life expectancy of the population to represent health.  What we see when we plot these two indicators diagrammatically is that there is also a relationship between them.  As life expectancy increases, the number of people in poverty decreases.  Health is important, because without it a poor person can’t provide a robust livelihood for themselves and their family.  All too often families fall into poverty, because the father has poor health and can’t work, or another family member falls ill and expensive medicines are needed to treat them.  But we can’t say that a long life alleviates poverty or that declining poverty leads to a longer life, it could be down to chance.  We don’t have enough evidence based on the two indicators plotted in the diagram to establish a cause and effect relationship.  What we can say is that there’s a relationship between the two variables, plus the strength of the relationship is the weakest of the three indicators we’ve considered, because the points are quite scattered.

So what can we say about the best way to reduce poverty from our brief investigation?  Well it’s clear the relationship between poverty and education appears to be the strongest, with the relationship between poverty and health the weakest.  The relationship between poverty and urbanisation is also stronger than for health, but weaker than for education.  So based on our limited investigation we could argue that the best way to end poverty is to educate the poor, to build their skill levels, to enable them to become more productive, self-confident members of their societies.

What do you think about the insights revealed by these stats?  Visit the OpenLearn site to share your views and see credits and links for all sources used in this video.

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