What is Poverty

The topic briefs us about poverty,it’s ill-effects in the society. Not only poverty acts as a bane for the society but tears apart the self confidence of the individual and he is unable to recieve what he wants to desire. Poverty means lack of resources that an individual pocess and unable to get all the basic necessities of his life.In this topic we will discuss the definition of poverty ,it’s causes , how it is related to unemployment,crime,dissatisfaction etc. At the end of the topic Bibliography is given to discuss all the important works of sociologists in this topic.


Poverty is relative to richness. Poverty is one of the foremost social problems facing India and other countries. Poverty exists when one is not able to get sufficient food and necessities of life.

“That condition in which a person either because of inadequate income or unwise expenditures, does not maintain a scale of living high enough to provide for his physical and mental efficiency and to enable him and his natural dependents to function according to the standards of society of which he is a member.”-John L. Gillian

“Poverty is the insufficient supply of those things which are requisite for an individual to maintain himself and those dependent upon him in health and vigor”.-J.G. Goddard

“Man is rich or poor according to the degree in which he can afford to enjoy the necessaries, the conveniences and the amusements of life.” –Adam Smith


Rich and poor have always existed in society but historically the existence of poverty did not constitute an important social problem until exchange system and a scale of values came into existence. When trade expands some people began to amass wealth leading to its uneven distribution. They started living a luxurious life depriving others of comforts. The members of society began to compare the differences in economic status and look upon themselves as either poor or rich in accordance with the prevailing living standards. So poverty is considered a problem only when obvious differences in economic status among members of a society are established and comparisons and evaluations of those differences are made.

In the absence of these differences poverty does not exist, even though life may be most precarious. Poverty is relative to richness. It is only when people feel resentment at their lot as compared with that of others. They fail to achieve more than what they have and the awareness of this failure causes resentment of poverty to the forefront. People are poor not because of an increase in misery but because of the attitude of resentment at what they do not possess and what others possess. They regard themselves as poor when they deprived of what others possess and enjoy. It is then that poverty becomes a social problem.

Source: An Introduction To Sociology Vidya Bhushan D.R. Sachdeva

NO UNIFORM STANDARDS-  The standards of poverty judgment are not uniform throughout.  In the Western societies people are not poor because they lack the necessities of life, such as food, clothing, and shelter, but only because their possessions are considered insufficient according to the prevailing standards. Thus , the inability to own a radio or an indication of poverty.  In India, on the other hand, deprivation of the necessities of life constitutes poverty. The possession of radio or automobile is a sign of richness. A vast majority of India’s population lives below the subsistence level. Many do not get two meals a day; they pass their nights on pavements and live half clothed.

HOW POOR WE ARE! In India, poverty is a foremost social problem. Nothing to speak of comforts the people here are deprived even of the basic necessities of life. According to the United Nations Human Development Report for 1990 , 48 percent of the country’s  population  live below the poverty line; through as per new methodology. The poverty line is drawn at RS 49.9 per capita per month (1973-74 prices) in the rural area and an income of Rs 56.44 per capita per month in the urban area. In America the average income is Rs 9,196, in England Rs 3,858, and in Australia it is Rs 4,207. Thus, an American earns thirty-three times more income to that of an Indian. Each year India adds about 5 million people to the growing multitude of poor. Poverty is more pronounced among the lower classes and in the rural areas.

POVERTY LINE­- The Indian Planning Commission defined ” poverty line” on the basis of nutritional requirements of 2400 calories per person per day for rural areas and 2100 calories per person per day for urban areas.

POVERTY TYPES- ABSOLUTE POVERTY- Absolute poverty is often known as ” subsistence poverty”. Here individual is not able to meet the basic ” physical needs” like food , clothing, shelter, health needs etc.

RELATIVE POVERTY- ” Relative poverty is measured in terms of judgements by members of a particular society of what is considered as reasonable and acceptable standard of living and styles of life according to the conventions of the day. An individual may be relatively poor among the persons of his own group who are richer than him.”


What are the causes underlying poverty?

According to Henry George,the main cause of poverty is the personal ownership and monopoly of the individual on the land. He writes, ” In the great cities, where land is so valuable that it is measured by the foot, you will find the extremes of poverty and luxury.

And this disparity in condition between the two extremes of the social scale may always be measured by the price of land. According to Marx, the main cause of poverty is the exploitation of the workers by the capitalists. According to Malthus, increasing population is the cause of poverty. These thinkers however, laid emphasis on one particular cause of poverty. As a matter of fact the causes of poverty are numerous and complex.

Gillins listed three factors as primarily responsible for poverty;

1) incapacity of the individual, which may be due to to a faculty heredity or to the environment.

2) unfavourable physical conditions, such as poor natural resources, bad climate and weather, and epidemics; and

3) maldistribution of wealth and of income and the imperfect functioning of our economic institutions. Of these three factors the last two factors are principally responsible for poverty in India. Ours is a country rich in natural resources, but we have not yet adequately exploited them. A vast area of land remains uncultivated. Our means of cultivation are old styled resulting in less production. Industries are not well developed ; a vast portion of population depends on agriculture. And in addition to it wealth is unevenly distributed due to bad economic planning which even leads to wastage.

OTHER CAUSES-1) Defective social organisation like educational deficiencies, poor housing and living conditions rapid technological advancements.

2) War brings more number of disabled, widows in society, which has direct bearing on their living standard.

3) Physical and mental illness

4) Accidents and trauma

5) Illiteracy

6) Extravagent lifestyle

7) Big family size

Chronic Poverty In India


1) Extreme climatic and weather conditions

2) Absence of natural resources

3) Natural calamities like tsunami, earthquakes, cyclones, cloud burst,avalanche etc.


1) Agricultural. Non-availability of machinery and tools affects cultivation process.

2) Unequal distribution of goods and wealth

3) Economic debacle

4) Unproductive hoarding and amassing of assets


1) Joint family system

2) Caste system

3) Customs and traditions like dowry system

4) Unequal and costly educational system


1) Poor government policies and taxation norms exploits the situation more


1) Increasing birth rate

2) Decreasing death rate

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