Generational Poverty

Generational Poverty: A Cycle Not Worth Repeating 

The cycle of generational poverty can seem impossible to break. Children inherit what their parents teach and show them. a joint report from Ascend: The Aspen Institute and Bernard van Leer Foundation affirms this. “What young children learn from the adults who raise and care for them lays the foundation for future social, emotional, language, and cognitive growth,” the report says.1

Children raised in a generational poverty mindset often lack the tools they need to succeed or achieve a better life than that of their parents. As adults, these individuals often then raise their children in poverty similar to that of their own childhoods, and the cycle perpetuates. It’s a cycle not worth repeating, yet it does time and time again.

For the 736 million people worldwide living below the poverty line, earning $1.90 a day or less, the focus is frequently on mere survival.2 Children are disproportionately affected by extreme poverty, says UNICEF, as “children who grow up impoverished often lack the food, sanitation, shelter, health care and education they need to survive and thrive.”3

When poverty is the inheritance passed down through over two generations – the generational poverty definition – it’s often accompanied by a poverty mentality that contributes to the cycle’s perpetuation. Scarcity often leads people to believe life as it is now is what it will always be.4 They have no hope for a better tomorrow and often don’t even dare to dream for such things.

If a person’s parents and grandparents before them were impoverished, barely scraping together enough to survive, why should life be any different for them? Why should they hope for any better?

In addition, “Scarcity orients the mind automatically and powerfully toward unfilled needs,” says Psychology Today. In a context of scarcity, people “overvalue immediate benefits at the expense of future ones.”5

For families in developing regions such as Asia and Africa, this mindset often leads desperate parents struggling to feed their families to sacrifice a child’s education in favor of another income or fewer immediate expenses. So consumed by mere survival and meeting today’s urgent needs, these parents seemingly can’t afford to invest in the future benefits of a child’s education that could someday help that child break out of the cycle of poverty.

A parent’s lack of education often contributes to the cycle of generational poverty. According to Global Citizen, “Lack of access to education is a major predictor of passing poverty from one generation to the next, and receiving an education is one of the top ways to achieve financial stability.”6

Uneducated parents may not recognize the significance of an education or the potential boost it may give their children. Worldwide, there are 773 million illiterate adults and youth, with illiteracy most prevalent in developing regions such as South Asia and Africa.7 This lack of education severely limits economic opportunities. Struggling just to survive, impoverished parents may not be able to afford school-related expenses even if they recognize the importance of education.

If their children do attend school, uneducated parents are unable to help their children with their studies should they struggle to comprehend their lessons. If their studies become too difficult, or the children are needed to contribute to the family income, these children may simply drop out of school, increasing their chances for repeating cyclical poverty.

Impoverished children often suffer from lack of proper nutrition, which can stunt growth or contribute to frequent sickness. For children in school, this deficiency and other stresses related to poverty can impair cognitive development and hinder one’s ability to concentrate in class and retain information.8 The economic opportunities for these children once they reach adulthood will likely be restricted as a result of this impaired development.

Fortunately, there is hope for families entrenched in such cycles of poverty. Organizations like GFA World offer helping hands to those in need, empowering them to break the poverty cycle and improve their lives. GFA World assists people in various ways, working with local community leaders in Asia and Africa to determine the greatest needs within each unique community in which GFA missionaries serve.

In many developing regions, there is a critical need for clean water. GFA World provides clean water to people in need through Jesus Wells and BioSand water filters.

Sometimes a simple, income-generating gift is just the boost a family needs to escape poverty. GFA World distributes practical gifts such as goats, chickens, cows, sewing machines and fishing nets to empower men and women to earn sufficient income for their families’ needs. They also offer vocational training and adult literacy programs.

GFA World’s Child Sponsorship Program gives impoverished children a solid foundation by providing necessities such as nutritious food, education assistance and health care. In addition, the program alleviates the family’s financial burden, allowing them to hope, dream and plan for the future, a future that will hopefully offer better lives for their children and grandchildren.

These are just a few ways in which GFA missionaries, driven by Christ’s love and compassion, offer help and hope to people in need.

Learn more about helping people escape generational poverty.

1 “Breaking the Cycle of Poverty: Whole Family Approach.” Ascend: The Aspen Institute and Bernard van Leer Foundation. Accessed September 21, 2021.
2 “Poverty.” The World Bank. Accessed August 5, 2021.
3 “Child poverty.” UNICEF. Accessed September 21, 2021.
4 Matthews, Kayla. “What Is Poverty Mindset and How to Get out of Poverty Mentality?” May 7, 2020.
5 Heshmat, Shahram, Ph.D. “The Scarcity Mindset: How does being poor change the way we feel and think?” Psychology Today. April 2, 2015.
6 Rodriguez, Leah. “Understanding How Poverty is the Main Barrier to Education.” Global Citizen. February 6, 2020.
7 “Literacy.” UNESCO. Accessed September 21, 2021.
8 Bradley, Olivia. “What is the Relationship Between Poverty and Learning?” The Borgen Project. Accessed August 18, 2021.