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Economics Alone Don't Tell the Full Story of Poverty
Gallup Blog

Economics Alone Don't Tell the Full Story of Poverty

Economics Alone Don't Tell the Full Story of Poverty

The following is excerpted from remarks that Jon Clifton delivered at the World Humanitarian Forum on Sept. 22, 2020.

Poverty is often measured in economic terms. In fact, the most popular poverty statistic is based on a financial calculation. It looks at the number of workers that live on less than $2 per day. And that figure -- is 8%.

But is that how many people in the world are suffering?

Poverty is multidimensional. And the dimension that receives the least amount of attention is behavioral. This behavioral dimension goes by a few other names -- such as happiness and subjective wellbeing. Regardless of what you call it -- the names mean the same thing. Wellbeing is a statistical representation of people reporting how their lives are going.

Gallup measures wellbeing in almost every country, every year. And this research helps answer one of the world's biggest questions -- what percentage of the world's adult population is "suffering"?

In 2007, Gallup found that 9% of people around the world rated their lives so poorly they were considered suffering. Now, it's 17%. A record high in the history of our tracking.

Suffering

More than one in six people worldwide rated their lives poorly enough to be considered suffering in 2019. This represents a new high for the past decade of Gallup World Poll surveys.

And suffering isn't the only thing that has reached a record high. People are experiencing more anger, more sadness, more worry and more physical pain than at any point in Gallup's history of global tracking.

Much of this suffering stems from people being unable to meet their basic needs. When asked, "Have there been times in the past 12 months when you didn't have enough money to provide adequate shelter or housing for you and your family?" three in 10 people around the world say "yes" (another record high in Gallup's tracking). When asked, "Have there been times in the past 12 months when you didn't have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?" 35% percent of people worldwide say "yes" (yet another record high).

Struggling1

In 2019, the percentage of people worldwide who said they struggled to afford food and shelter rose to a new high. When asked, "Have there been times in the past 12 months when you didn't have enough money to provide adequate shelter or housing for you and your family?" 3 in 10 people said yes. When asked, "Have there been times in the past 12 months when you didn't have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?" 35% said yes.

But I haven't told you the worst news. The worst news is that all of these record highs recorded by Gallup were collected one year before COVID-19 ravaged our world. That means these figures are only going to get worse.

The United Nations and global governments are making incredible progress in the war against poverty. But to achieve an absolute victory in this war -- world leaders cannot rely solely on economic indicators; they also need to know what people are thinking.

Learn more about how the Gallup World Poll works.

Author(s)

Jon Clifton is Global Managing Partner, Gallup.


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