The Extent and Nature of Absolute Poverty. Final Report to DFID


The main purpose of this project was to produce the first scientifically valid global estimates on the extent and nature of absolute poverty. These estimates are at individual, rather than household, level and are based upon internationally agreed definitions of poverty. This research has constructed the first globally representative database of harmonised social survey micro-data on 5.9 million individuals living in 74 countries. The results of this research have already been widely disseminated to international policy makers and resulted in a resolution adopted by the 61st Session of the UN General Assembly. It has generated literally hundreds of pages of policy relevant details on the extent, nature, causes and consequences of poverty at country and sub-country (administrative region) level. This short final report concentrates on the broader picture at global and UN Statistical Region level.

The main findings are as follows:

  1. Almost a quarter (24%) of the world's population is absolutely poor (over 1.4 billion people).
  2. Over 1.3 billion people (22%) have no toilet facilities whatsoever.
  3. Over 900 million people (15%) are severely educationally deprived - they have never been to school and are illiterate
  4. In the developing world, two out of every five people living in rural areas are absolutely poor compared with less than one in ten living in urban areas.
  5. Absolute poverty rates are more than ten times larger in the remote countryside (57%) than in the large cities (5%).
  6. Anti-poverty programmes need to address the problem of severe housing and sanitation deprivation in rural areas of Africa and South Asia.
  7. Children suffer from the highest rates of poverty and 200 million children less than 5 years old suffer from absolute poverty.
  8. Significantly more girls and women are absolutely poor that boys and men.
  9. Irrespective of the number of adults in a household the absolute poverty rate increases linearly with increasing numbers of children.
  10. In developing countries there are five religious groups where over half the followers suffer from absolute poverty (Animist/Shamanism, African Traditional religions, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism and Vodoun) by contrast fewer than one in ten followers of Jainism, Judaism and Confucianism are absolutely poor. Just over a third of Muslims (37%) and just under a third of Christians (27%) are absolutely poor.
  11. Two thirds of adults who are self employed and work in farming or fishing are absolutely poor compared with only one in a hundred of those employed to do clerical work. Anti-poverty policies in developing countries need to encourage the creation of high quality jobs.
  12. Two thirds of adults in developing countries who had no education are absolutely poor.


Gordon, D.; Irving, M.K.; Nandy, S.; Townsend, P. The Extent and Nature of Absolute Poverty. Final Report to DFID. University of Bristol, Bristol, UK (2006) 43 pp.

The Extent and Nature of Absolute Poverty. Final Report to DFID

Published 1 January 2006