Generational Poverty Mindset

Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase generational poverty mindset, or something similar, and are curious what the phrase refers to. What is its meaning?

First, let’s consider “generational poverty.” This phrase typically refers to a cycle of poverty that perpetuates through at least two generations of the same family. Such a cycle frequently persists because of factors related to poverty that can be difficult to overcome.

With this cycle of poverty is often ingrained a poverty mindset that is passed down from one generation to the next. This mindset commonly includes a resignation to a life of poverty, with no dreams or plans for a better life.1 These individuals may consider poverty their family’s lot in life, with no alternative in their purview. It’s how life was for their parents and grandparents before them; why should it be any different for them or their children?

According to the Science of Learning Blog, “Children growing up in poverty often experience life as a series of volatile situations over which neither they nor their caregivers have any control. Thus, they fail to develop a conception of themselves as free individuals capable of making choices and acting on them to shape their lives, instead reacting to crises that are only magnified by their poor ability to plan ahead or reflect.”2

A poverty mentality also causes one to focus on immediate needs, often to the detriment of long-term benefits. For example, out of necessity, impoverished parents in developing countries may keep children out of school to contribute to the family’s income in effort to provide sufficient food. In the long run, these children could earn 10 percent more per additional year of schooling.3 But these parents either don’t recognize the importance of education, often as a result of their own lack of education, or they can’t afford to send their children to school because of their financial plight.

GFA World is combatting generational poverty, and the mindset that typically accompanies it, in places such as Asia and Africa. For example, through GFA World’s Child Sponsorship Program, GFA workers offer practical assistance and transmit positive values to the next generation, inspiring these young people to dream of a better future and giving them skills they need to succeed in escaping poverty and building better lives for their communities and future generations.

1 Matthews, Kayla. “What Is Poverty Mindset and How to Get out of Poverty Mentality?” May 7, 2020.
2 Birdsong, Kristina. “10 Facts About How Poverty Impacts Education.” The Science of Learning Blog. January 26, 2016.
3 Rodriguez, Leah. “Understanding How Poverty is the Main Barrier to Education.” Global Citizen. February 6, 2020.