The Four Contributory Factors To Poverty Both Locally And Globally

Poverty is an issue that affects the entire world. Even those countries that are considered to be wealthy still have to deal with issues of poverty.

There are four main contributory factors for poverty locally and globally: literacy and education, health and medical care, work or job opportunities, and the overpopulation of a city or country. All of these four areas help to contribute to poverty both locally and globally.

Here is how we feel that literacy and education, health and medical care, work or job opportunities, and overpopulation contribute to poverty both locally and globally:

Literacy and Education

Literacy and education go hand-in-hand. This is because poor education or a lack of education is one of the major causes of poverty globally. The more education a person receives, the more chance they can use their knowledge to escape poverty.

The world is filled with stories of people born and raised in poverty but can escape poverty through education and hard work.

Children looking into a school through a broken window in North Vietnam

The World Bank has termed the concept of education, literacy, and poverty as “Learning Poverty.” Learning Poverty is about a child or person obtaining an education.

Learning poverty means:

  • Literacy Benchmark – All children should be able to read by the age of 10. Though a person can learn to read later in life, studies have shown that children who are not reading by the age of 10 usually fail to master reading later in life. This is why the age of 10 is a benchmark for children to be able to read simple text to be considered literate.
  • Reading is a Gateway – Reading is a gateway for learning; reading is the tools to help a child to be able to learn. If a child cannot read or write the doors to learning and many job opportunties are shut to them.
  • Quality Education – A quality education is important for all children. It is not just the quantity but also the quality of education that a child recieves. This is why those children whose parents give them a high-quality education will usually continue to do well in life.
  • Fundamental Skills – The World Bank has found that a large proportion of children around the world are not learning some fundamental skills – which also includes reading, writing, math, science and  and the humanities
  • Children Not In School – Worldwide it is estimate that 260 million children are not even in school. Without being in school it hurts the child if they later decide to get an education or when they join the work force.

In speaking about the concept of learning poverty, the World Bank said:

“To spotlight this crisis, we are introducing the concept of Learning Poverty and an accompanying measure constructed jointly by the World Bank and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Learning poverty means being unable to read and understand a simple text by age 10. This indicator brings together schooling and learning indicators: it begins with the share of children who haven’t achieved minimum reading proficiency (as measured in schools) and is adjusted by the proportion of children who are out of school (and are assumed not able to read proficiently).”

The World Bank

Many parts of the world and some cultures do not attach much importance to education. Some countries will only educate the boys and not the girls. This lack of education for the girls ensures that a girl will be in poverty or dependent upon her husband’ or family support her entire life.

Due to economic or other necessities, many families do not see the need for their children to be educated. Some feel once a child is a certain age; they need the children to work to help to support the family. With my work with Project Sprout, I have met many of these children – mostly girls -many Hmong – who live in poverty in the mountainside of Vietnam.

These girls stopped school at age 7, 8, or 9 – some never went to school. They either need to help take care of younger siblings or help their parents out in the fields. Most of these girls get married at a very young age, or others are eventually sold into the sex trade.

These parents do not fully understand that by ensuring their daughters or children lack education and literacy, they almost guarantee the family’s cycle of poverty will continue to the next generation.

This is why The World Bank and UNESCO Institute for Statistics have placed such high importance on education and learning and are watching this through their learning poverty criteria. They understand that with education and literacy, a person has a much higher chance to get out of the poverty cycle than one who is not educated or literate.

Health and Medical Care

Health or ill health and medical care or the lack of medical care is a major cause of poverty. This is because the cost to seek proper health care can drive people into poverty. This does not just happen in third-world countries but is also known to happen in many first-world countries.

The out-of-pocket expenses for health such as consultations, tests, medicine, transportation costs, other expenses can drive many people into poverty. This, on top of the loss of income for those who are ill or have a disease, can be insurmountable.

Man walking to work in the fields in North Vietnam

In many developing countries, illness can cause both the breadwinner and other family members to stop working or attending school to take care of sick relatives. Some people are forced to sell their assets to cover the medical expenses for themselves or a loved one, or they need to borrow money at a very high-interest rate.

In my work with Project Sprouts, I have seen firsthand how devastating they can be to a family when visiting some villages outside Hanoi. I have been into the homes of children who had nothing because they had a father who died of a disease, so the family lost their main breadwinner.

In some cultures, when a woman loses a spouse, it is almost impossible for her to remarry due to social or cultural stigmatism. With the death of a spouse, she is almost ensured she will live in poverty.

In speaking of the importance of health care and poverty, the World Bank has said:

“Strong health systems improve the health status of the whole population, but especially of the poor among whom ill health and poor access to health care tends to be concentrated, as well as protect households from the potentially catastrophic effects of out-of-pocket health care costs. In general, poor health is disproportionately concentrated among the poor.”

The World Bank

Many developed countries, including the United States, have seen many people be forced into poverty because of health care expenses. A recent study found that Americans who relied on Medicare for their main health insurance faced higher medical bills so that they would forego essential health care.

This foregoing of essential health care could then lead to more severe medical problems in the future. In other words, in many of the world’s so-called wealthier countries, many people are considered “health care poor” because their health care bills are so high they cannot afford to get the health care help they really need.

Lack Of Job Opportunities

The lack of job opportunities is also one of the core causes of poverty. For the poor, their labor is usually the only real asset to improve their lives and well-being.

A person who does not have productive employment opportunities will have difficulty getting out of poverty, educating themselves or their children, or improving their social development.

Cambodia laborers going to work early in the morning.

This is why it is so important that people have decent jobs, especially women and younger people. Due to the effects of the COVID pandemic worldwide, fewer women are now working than men. Worldwide this has accounted for 54 million fewer women are in the workforce after COVID than before.

Added to this number of fewer women in the workforce, there is also still the issue of the gender pay gap. It is estimated that women, on average in the United States, will earn anywhere from 18% to 2% less than men for the same work; in other countries, this can be much higher.

The 18% to 2% may not seem high, but this can be a huge difference in reality. This means that a divorced or widowed woman will have a much harder chance to raise her family out of poverty than her husband would have. Not only did she lose being in a household with two incomes, but now she will also earn about 18% less than a man would for the same work.

Women and underemployed young people may also find it much harder to find a job that will pay them a living wage. These factors contribute to the lack of job opportunities; this lack of employment opportunities contributes worldwide to the poverty issue.

Population and Pollution

Overpopulation is also one of the main factors that can influence poverty. Overpopulation can also lead to more pollution, which in turn also contributes to poverty. Some people call these the 3 Ps’ – Population, Pollution, and Poverty.

There are several ways that overpopulation can affect poverty. One is simply that a country runs out of money, so there are no social or welfare programs. The government cannot care for or support its citizens, and this will then contribute to poverty.

Children outside their house, North Vietnam

Another is that families have so many children, an underemployed father, and there is not enough money to put food on the table to feed the family. Poverty will usually force the older children into child labor; this child must then stop their education.

In extreme cases, the parents sell their daughters into the sex trade, essentially ensuring a terrible fate for their daughters that few will ever recover from. Other low-income families have their children leave their country and try to become refugees in another country.

Overpopulation also affects poverty and pollution. . Overpopulated cities that are so polluted, so people suffer from pollution-related diseases; the cost of these diseases is driving families into poverty.

The fishermen can no longer fish in the polluted waters, so they have no way to support and feed their families. Farmers that no longer farm in their fields because their fields are too polluted with plastic and other things

Add to that the issues of areas of the world where populations are growing much faster than the food supply. This lack of food will drive up food prices and contribute to poverty and hunger.

There are no straightforward answers to all these poverty problems as these problems are very complex. The answers depend upon many outside factors such as government, social services, culture, and individuals.

This is why poverty really has no one easy fix and makes poverty such a difficult worldwide issue to solve.

But there are things that we as individuals can do. If we find ourselves in a poverty situation, we can work to get all the education we can; there is so much that can be learned today on the internet.

If we are lucky and have money, we can seek out programs and people actively working in one or all these areas and financially support their work. We work with Project Sprouts, a grassroots organization in Hanoi, Vietnam. Our main focus is to help poor students and schools in North Vietnam.

Finally, if you are traveling to a country where poverty is an issue, it is important to understand how poverty affects people. Know that tossing a plastic water bottle on the ground may not affect you personally, but it could affect someone else. Be sensitive to those who do not have a lot and understand that their living in poverty probably has a lot more to do with circumstance than anything else.

At A Bus On A Dusty Road, we talk about all things to do with travel, life, and ex-pat living. We are all about “Living Life As A Global Citizen.” We explore social, cultural, and economic issues as worldwide poverty.

We would love to have you be part of our community. Sign up for our newsletter to keep up-to-date by clicking here. If you have any questions, you can welcome to contact me, Anita, by clicking here.


What is learning poverty? The World Bank

Poverty and Health, The World Bank

Americans Near Poverty Line Face Significant Gap in Health Care Coverage, May Forego Essential Health Care, Pharmacy Times

Fewer women than men will regain employment during the COVID-19 recovery, ILO, International Labour Organization.

How population and poverty are linked, Financial Times.

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Anita L Hummel

Hi, I live in Hanoi, Vietnam but spend time traveling the region. I love to share with you things I see and learn through my travels.

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