What Are the Main Causes of Poverty?

Dan Moyle/CC-BY 2.0

On an individual basis, poverty is caused by the level of education, skill, intelligence and experience one has. Mental and physical handicaps, feebleness due to age and discrimination due to sexual orientation, race, sex and other bigotry also are causes. Causes on a societal level include warfare, agricultural cycles, natural disasters, droughts and flooding.

There are at least two approaches to explaining societal poverty, including case and generic theories. The case approach says that individual theories (or cases) of poverty make up the aggregate (or total) reasons for societal poverty. The generic theory of poverty, however, maintains that systemwide societal problems, such as low national income, cause individual cases of poverty.

In other words, case theories believe in combating poverty by addressing individual causes. Generic theory, on the other hand, believes in combating poverty by addressing the overarching social and economic issues that cause it.

For example, in case theory, if the cause of poverty is believed to be lack of education or skills, then the solution is better educating individuals in poverty. According to generic theory, however, the issue of poverty would be better solved by improving the quantity and quality of jobs nationwide.

Some scholars who like a generic approach say that some underlying problems that cause poverty include the fact that there aren’t enough employment opportunities that produce a livable wage, or the fact that a country has a low national income. Another country-specific example is warfare. For example, the per capita GDP of Iraq dropped from $2,500 to $761 due to the Persian Gulf War between 1990 to 1993.