Global Poverty Statistics

updated April 2016

The number of people in developing countries living below the international poverty line of $1.90 per day fell from over 1,948 million to 902 million between 1990 and 2012, the most recent year for which sufficient household data is available. Based on broad economic performance since 2012, the figure is estimated to have fallen further to 702 million in 2015. These figures are published by the World Bank, fulfilling its responsibility for official global poverty statistics.

The East Asia and Pacific region (including China) was responsible for 848 million of the reduction to 2012, implying a fall in poverty of only 198 million for all other developing regions combined. In 2012, India alone accounted for 26% of global poverty and Nigeria for 10%; 78% of all poverty was located in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

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 101 million between 1990 and 2012, the region’s percentage rate of poverty fell from 56.8% to 42.7% in that period. For all developing regions, the percentage figures show that global poverty has been reduced significantly, from 36.9% in 1990 to 12.8% in 2012.

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 has increased from 650 million in 1990 to 863 million in 2012.

A weakness of these 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.


Professor Hans Rosling deploys innovative visual technology to explore the trends in global poverty over the last 200 years

from IFPRI

more Global Poverty briefings
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
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