Types of Poverty

Just like it would be preposterous to ascribe all instances of poverty across the world to a single cause, there is a component of absurdity in considering all poverty as the same. Poverty, what causes it and how it is experienced is something specific to each person living below the poverty line. This makes the issue a spectrum that must be treated, if not as such, as a scale in order to understand it. Therefore ⎯and much akin to how the established causes of poverty are merely a study of significant global trends⎯ the existing six types of poverty serve as blanket statements for certain groups of poor people. This classification is based on how the people in these groups got to poverty, where they live and how they experience the issue.


All other types of poverty can be reduced to these two:

  • Absolute poverty is measured in terms of access to basic necessities. It is defined in the Declaration of Copenhagen as: “A condition characterized 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 on access to social services” (United Nations, 1995)
  • Relative poverty “refers to deprivation that is relative to the standard of living of other members of society” (VISTA Integrated Training Program, 2008), i.e. an individual or household is considered poor if they cannot afford items and have less opportunities that others in their society.


  • Temporary or situational: This type of poverty is usually temporary and involves the occurrence of an adverse event (environmental disasters, job loss, severe health problems). Situational poverty can be of two kinds:
  • Cyclical: This is usually brief and depends on the overall state  of the global and national economy
  • Of assets: It is triggered by a crisis specific to those experiencing poverty. Two types of household are commonplace to this type of poverty:
  • Relatively secure middle-class families: Their fall below the poverty line usually encompasses making a high-risk decision.
  • Families with permanently low income: The position of these families shifts constantly from above to below the poverty line and they are described by Leisering and Leibfriend as having a “precarious well-being”.
  • Generational: Occurs in families where at least two generations have been born into poverty.  Families living in this type of poverty are not equipped with the tools to move out of their situation” (Jensen, 2009).


  • Rural: Inherent to areas with less than 50 000 inhabitants. The job market in small towns is limited, which prevents people with an already low-income from improving their finances and gaining access to certain services.
  • Urban: Specific to metropolitan areas with population over 50 000. The urban poor often deal with the inadequate housing and services common to people in other types of poverty. Violence, overcrowding and other chronic stressors are also characteristic of urban poverty.

Malnutrition Definition
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