What is the cycle of poverty?

Updated Mar 04, 2021
The cycle of poverty is about more than a simple lack of resources. It’s a complex issue that requires digging a little deeper for sustainable solutions. That’s why World Vision works alongside communities to empower families, build their resilience and lift them out of poverty – for good.
What is the cycle of poverty?
The cycle of poverty begins when a child is born into a poor family. These families often have limited or no resources to create opportunities to advance themselves, which leaves them stuck in the poverty trap.
On paper, the cycle of poverty has been defined as a phenomenon where poor families become impoverished for at least three generations.   
Help children break the cycle of poverty

How does the poverty cycle affect children?
Children are most affected by the cycle of poverty. Children are dependent on their guardians and therefore can’t pull themselves out of poverty because of their young age and lack of resources.
Children living in poverty are more likely to experience:
  • Illness due to unsafe water and poor sanitation
  • Malnutrition
  • Lack of access to education
  • Inadequate health care
Children in school in Ecuador.
Children answer questions in their classroom in Ecuador. Photo: World Vision. 

What can break the cycle of poverty?
There is hope for breaking the cycle of poverty. World Vision Canada works in more than 50 countries worldwide, helping children in some of the most vulnerable communities.
One of the biggest contributors to ending poverty is ensuring children have an education. For any child, education can open doors to the future that would otherwise be locked tight. Children who are not in school are at greater risk of exploitation and early marriage. They’re on track for a much lower income once they grow up. This limits the future for their own children, thus repeating the cycle of poverty generation after generation.

However, even the most basic education – reading, writing and arithmetic – can open doors to futures that would otherwise be shut. 

Adults with even a basic education are better equipped to run a business – for example, to keep accurate records and to secure loans to expand their ventures. They can read correspondence from potential business partners and write responses.

Girls who stay in school are less likely to marry early, contributing to their overall health and well-being. They can more effectively teach their children, helping lift an entire generation. 

Two women water their crops in a village in Africa.
Women water their crops in South Sudan. Photo: Jon Warren

Economic Empowerment
Breaking the poverty cycle is a complex process – but one thing seems consistent. A child’s parents have the greatest influence on her economic well-being

World Vision works to raise the economic well-being of individual households, helping to break the poverty cycle within that family. People whose businesses are blossoming hire others to help them, breaking the cycle of poverty for other families. In time, the entire community is lifted.

World Vision empowers people in four main ways:
  • Microfinance
  • Savings groups
  • Market/value chain development
  • Training small business owners
Using these approaches, we empower people to start their own businesses, learn savings habits and improve their farming. This in turn helps them provide for their families.

Learn more about how World Vision ensures it’s making the greatest possible impact.
What can I do to break the cycle of poverty?
Short-term solutions don’t end poverty and our goal is to eradicate it completely. This means empowering people to lift themselves out of poverty. At World Vision, we’ve found that the most powerful way to do this is by working together.
Through child sponsorship, we bring Canadians alongside children living in some of the world’s hardest places and send them on a collective journey of transformation.
When you sponsor a child, you help provide them and their community with access to life-transforming necessities like education, safe water, economic empowerment and better nutrition. This is how we end the cycle of poverty: together

More stories for you

Beyond her expectations: Nancy’s sponsorship success story Two continents and 7,000 miles can't break the bond between these women who believe in the life-changing power of educating girls.
Protecting the right to education: What you should know Here are facts and figures about what it takes to protect the right to education and what can be done to make sure all children have quality education.
The power of child sponsorship: From Colombia to Canada Child sponsorship was a key part of Milena’s journey out of poverty as a child. How did this early childhood educator in Canada become who she is today?