The moving out of poverty study: an overview

The moving out of poverty study: an overview

Understanding poverty by consulting with the poor: the World Bank's Moving Out of Poverty study 

Poverty reduction rates vary significantly between and within developing countries, indicating that local contexts influence the lives of the poor. Increasingly, it is recognised that in addition to national poverty aggregates, local-level analysis that takes into account poor people’s perceptions helps explain the reasons why some people are able to move out of poverty over time, while others are not. In this context, a new major study conducted by the World Bank consults with 60,000 people around the world to explore how people move out of poverty from the bottom-up.

A follow-up study to the earlier Voices of the Poor project, Moving Out of Poverty compiles quantitative and qualitative information emerging from 21 studies carried out in 15 countries. The information is based on 10 data collection methods, including focus group discussions with men, women and youths, the ladder of life exercise and household interviews using questionnaires, that explore how people have moved out of poverty from 1995 to 2005.

According to the research, poor people are able to move out of poverty through a combination of initiative and opportunity both of which are facilitated or constrained by local-level social, political and economic institutions. Specifically, the study finds that:

  • poverty is a condition, not a characteristic
  • power ‘within’ can help a person move out of poverty
  • poor people’s access to economic opportunity overwhelmingly remain inequitable
  • responsive local democracies can help reduce poverty
  • collective action helps poor people cope but not get ahead

Given this, poverty reduction interventions should seek to expand the scope for people in poverty to utilise their agency, in both public and private spheres, and transform markets so that poor people can access and participate in them fairly. Well-functioning local democracies too are likely to help people move out of poverty.

The study concludes that since “the poor” are in fact a fluid group of people, poverty-reducing strategies must help people build permanent assets and livelihoods to help them cope with fluctuating life circumstances in the face of limited choices. In this process, context-specific initiatives that improve poor people’s road and market access, increase local government accountability and reduce social inequalities, particularly by strengthening poor people’s organisations, are likely to be most effective.