Generational poverty

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Generational poverty is a term defined as having been in poverty for at least two generations.[1] It can affect every aspect of a person’s life: physical, social, emotional and mental.[2]


People with a background of generational poverty are born into disadvantage and lack tools and oportunities that are present in those experiencing situational poverty. Therefore, it can be extremely difficult, if not virtually impossible, for them to escape poverty.[3]

Some common characteristics among many people who experience generational poverty:

  • Family has never owned land
  • Lack of access to higher education
  • Low-skilled jobs
  • High mobility
  • Low family literacy[4]
  • Dependance on welfare


It is widely believed that people in generational poverty have their own culture, hidden rules and belief systems, with many holding the assumption that “society owes them a living”.[3] Research suggests that attitude is the main factor in being able to distinguish whether an individual suffers generational or situational poverty. If the individual or family feels that society owes them a living, they are considered to be in generational poverty.[5]



Often, generational poverty is associated with specific ethnic/cultural groups. Generational poverty is strongly established in some groups, like lower castes in India, Irish Travelers in Ireland or many African Americans in the United States, as well as Apartheid victims in South Africa.


In the United States, data from the Census Bureau shows that only 3.5 percent of Americans were poor for all 36 months of the period studied, encompassing the years 2009, 2010, and 2011. This suggest that the chronic, persistent, generational poverty that features often prominently in political rhetoric and media coverage is very much the exception, rather than the rule.[6]


  1. Noddings, Nel; Brooks, Laurie. Teaching Controversial Issues: The Case for Critical Thinking and Moral Commitment in the Classroom. 
  2. "What is Generational Poverty?". Retrieved 20 May 2018. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Generational Poverty". Retrieved 21 May 2018. 
  4. "Generational Poverty". Retrieved 20 May 2018. 
  5. "4. Characteristics of Generational Poverty". Retrieved 21 May 2018. 
  6. "Generational Poverty the Exception, Not the Rule". Retrieved 21 May 2018.