Generational Poverty

Generational Poverty: A Definition

In considering generational poverty, one definition would be a cycle of poverty that perpetuates through at least two generations of the same family. This cycle typically continues because of factors related to one’s poverty and can persist for many generations.

There are numerous reasons why poverty may pass from one generation to the next. Consider the following:

  • Those entrenched in cyclical poverty often have a poverty mindset that they pass on to their children through their examples and perspectives. This mentality offers little hope for a change in one’s circumstances and causes individuals to focus on immediate needs, such as food, rather than invest in the future.
  • According to the Association for Psychological Science, “Part of the fuel for poverty’s unending cycle is its suppressing effects on individuals’ cognitive development, executive functioning, and attention.”1
  • In developing regions, children in poverty may be pushed into the workforce, their families desperate for any additional income to put food on the table. Worldwide, there are approximately 160 million children involved in child labor.2 These children rarely complete their education, which limits their future job opportunities and chances for breaking out of poverty.3
  • “Children who grow up impoverished often lack the food, sanitation, shelter, health care and education they need to survive and thrive,” says UNICEF. They “suffer from poor living standards, develop fewer skills for the workforce, and earn lower wages as adults.”4
  • UNESCO estimates 773 million youth and adults cannot read or write.5 When a parent is illiterate, it impacts their child’s health and education. Illiterate parents are unable to read warning labels or important medical information regarding their children’s health. They’re also unable to help a child who may be struggling in their studies, inhibiting the child from gaining the education and skills needed to succeed in life.
  • A family’s poverty can contribute to malnutrition, which significantly impacts a growing child’s development. It can lead to frequent sickness as well as a hindered learning experience as hunger generates a formidable obstacle for concentration and information retention.6

In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson said, “Poverty perpetuates itself. Five- and 6-year-old children are inheritors of poverty’s curse and not its creators. Unless we act, these children will pass it on to the next generation, like a family birthmark.”7 Fortunately, organizations like GFA World are acting, and their compassionate response is helping families in places such as Asia and Africa overcome cycles of poverty.

1 Sleek, Scott. “How Poverty Affects the Brain and Behavior.” Association for Psychological Science. August 31, 2015.
2 “Child labour rises to 160 million – first increase in two decades.” International Labour Organization.–en/index.htm. June 10, 2021.
3 GPE Secretariat. “Child Labor Hinders Children’s Education.” June 12, 2016.
4 “Child poverty.” UNICEF. Accessed September 21, 2021.
5 “Literacy.” UNESCO. Accessed August 23, 2021.
6 Walthouse, Emily. “Effects of Hunger on Education.” The Borgen Project. Accessed August 19, 2021.
7 Kirp, David L. “How to Break the Poverty Cycle.” The New York Times. November 27, 2019.