As I was doing research for a paper I am writing on gender and development, I ran across an intriguing definition of the word poverty. Through my classes in college and my work at ELCA World Hunger I have done a lot of thinking about big issues related to poverty, but seldom do I sit down and think about what the word actually means. I decided to do some investigating on how others define poverty and here is what I came up with.

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines poverty as “the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions,” “renunciation as a member of a religious order of the right as an individual to own property,” “debility due to malnutrition,” and even a “lack of fertility”! Besides the last part, this definition covers a basic view of what poverty is, not having money or property or enough food to eat.

Next, I looked up a more concrete way of defining poverty. According to the World Bank, the international poverty line, as of 2005 defines poverty as living on less than $1.25 a day. Domestically, the United States Department of Health and Human Services poverty guideline for a four person household in 2009 was an annual income of $22,050 or below. According to the CIA World Factbook, Israel views poverty as living on $7.30 a day or less, and Mexico bases their definition of poverty on the amount of food one has. 

The definition I ran across in my research comes from Charlotte Wrigley-Asante in the Norwegian Journal of Geography. She argues that poverty is more than lack of income, but also incorporates “lack of dignity and autonomy and vulnerability.” She states that poverty is “the uneven distribution of life changes and experiences” and that “poverty is equated with deprivation and lack of social power.” She also includes vulnerability to “risks, shocks and stress and the inability to deal with them without sustaining damaging loss” in her definition of poverty.

Now that I have shared what I found, I want to hear what you think! What is poverty? Lack of money? A specific number? Being deprived of human capabilities? How would you define poverty?