The number of people in developing countries living below the international poverty line of $1.90 per day fell from over 1,850 million to 767 million between 1990 and 2013, the most recent year for which sufficient household data is available. These figures are published by the World Bank, fulfilling its responsibility for official global poverty statistics.
India and Nigeria alone accounted for more than a third of this global total. More than half of all global poverty in 2013 was located in sub-Saharan Africa. The East Asia and Pacific region (including China) was responsible for 895 million of the reduction since 1990, implying a fall in poverty of only 188 million for all other developing regions combined.
Expressing poverty as a percentage yields more impressive results due to rising population. Although the number of poor people in sub-Saharan Africa increased by 113 million between 1990 and 2013, the region’s percentage rate of poverty fell from 54% to 41% in that period. For all developing regions, global poverty has reduced significantly in precentage terms, from 35% in 1990 to 10.7% in 2013. Based on broad economic performance since 2013, the World Bank offers a cautious estimate that this figure has fallen further to 9.1% in 2016.
The trend of migration from poor farming regions has raised the incidence of urban poverty, especially in the slum zones of the world’s major cities. Although not all slum-dwellers fall below the $1.90 poverty line, the population of these deprived urban areas increased from 650 million in 1990 to 863 million in 2012.
A weakness of these global poverty statistics is that they say nothing about the dynamics of household misfortune, the extent to which families escape poverty and, all too often, subsequently fall back below the poverty line. Concern about this cyclic pattern is especially acute at present, due to the persistence of economic and climatic shocks.
Estimates suggest that 40% of the world’s population occupy the “fragile middle”, free from the worst extremes of poverty but by such a narrow margin that they remain vulnerable to setbacks. The World Bank estimates that increasing the international poverty line by as little as $0.10 would add 100 million to the global poverty total.
The profile of global poverty is completed by those whose prospects of joining the fragile middle are very low; perhaps as many as 500 million individuals whose social and economic environments fail to offer the lifeline they need.
Described as “chronic poverty”, this most permanent category is typically found amongst very small farmers and landless labourers, tribal and indigenous people experiencing discrimination, and nomadic pastoralists on marginal land.
This distinction between chronic and dynamic poverty is important because a one-dimensional poverty reduction strategy is unlikely to be successful for both categories.
more Global Poverty briefings (updated November 2017)
Perceptions of Global Poverty
National Poverty Line
International Poverty Line
Causes of Global Poverty
Should We Care About Poverty?
Sustainable Development Goal for Poverty
Global Poverty Solutions