When Did Poverty Start?

The origins of poverty date back to the 16th century, with the emergence of the New World, increased trade and the arrival of modern economics. Poverty emerged simultaneously with wealth. Gaps in income developed within and among nations, through combinations of geographical location, politics and access to resources and training.

Poverty existed in the 1770s, as evidenced in the book "The Wealth of Nations," written by Adam Smith in 1776. Smith noted income inequalities among citizens in the United States. However, economic prosperity differed among nations in addition to citizens of the U.S. Some nations advanced technologically and acquired wealth quickly, while others struggled to provide citizens with basic needs and resources.

Several theories exist for the difference in economic growth. Some experts argue poverty stems from geological conditions, like infertile soil, prevalence of disease and inhospitable growing conditions. Others argue that poverty derives from cultural practices and differences. Differences in religions, such as Catholics and Protestants, or Christians and Muslims, create unequal economic opportunities. Government and economic policies contribute to poverty too. Some governments historically extended more opportunities to citizens of certain races, ethnic identities and religions, leading to perpetual poverty and wealth. In 17th century America, for instance, aristocrats and conquistadors suppressed Native Americans to roles as indentured servants. Leaders restricted access to resources, such as education and good living conditions, which kept Native Americans in poverty.