Chronic poverty and education: a review of literature. CPRC Working Paper No. 131.


Primary education is widely perceived to have a key role in reducing poverty and is positively associated with development-related outcomes such as improving productivity. For girls in particular, it is highly correlated with improvements in health and reductions in fertility, infant mortality and morbidity rates. There is general acknowledgement that it is central to breaking the intergenerational transmission of poverty. However, this review argues that the processes by which education influences poverty are insufficiently understood, particularly with respect to intergenerational poverty transmission. It finds that the discourses of poverty theorists and educationists currently run on parallel tracks; and that neither discourse benefits as fully as it should from the conceptual advances of the other.

Chronic poverty theorists have developed nuanced definitions of multi-dimensional poverty in relation to both its duration as well as its dynamics. Education is seen as both a cause, and a factor contributing to the transmission of poverty, but little attempt is made in this literature to unpack the 'black box' of education. Conversely, the term 'chronic poverty' hardly appears in the education literature, which typically focuses more sharply on other indicators of disadvantage - such as caste, class, race – that education needs to challenge if it is not to reproduce unequitable social power relations. Its recognition that educational deprivation has multiple causes, including poverty, contests an oversimplified view of the capacity of formal education to tackle various forms of social disadvantage. The use of education to address chronic poverty specifically does not emerge from this review of the literature as a focus of education policy.

Case studies of donor agency policy, non-government agencies and national governments, show that they draw on both economic arguments and rights-based approaches to development to justify the focus on primary education reflected in the international commitments to the Millennium Development Goals on poverty, education and gender. However, the paper also identifies a series of methodological tensions and challenges to demonstrate that the evidence base in relation to exactly how education interrupts intergenerational transmission of poverty is weaker than its confident reiteration by agencies such as these would suggest. It argues for a methodologically innovative future research agenda that brings poverty and education research together to provide a nuanced and detailed understanding of how the two are linked, and to improve policy targeting. Six case studies of policy innovations that use educational measures to address chronic poverty are included in the Appendixes.


CPRC Working Paper No. 131, Chronic Poverty Research Centre, London, UK, ISBN: 978-1-906433-32-1, 108 pp.

Chronic poverty and education: a review of literature. CPRC Working Paper No. 131.

Published 1 January 2008