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Effects of Poverty
Of all the social issues faced by a developing country, poverty often feels especially overwhelming. Of the many factors working against the poor, the effects of poverty on the brain development of children is probably the most daunting yet.

Researchers have long suspected a correlation between a child’s behavior and cognitive abilities and their socio-economic status. This correlation becomes even more apparent among people living in extreme poverty. In a 2015 study published in Nature Neuroscience, a team led by neuroscientists Kimberly Noble from Columbia University in New York City and Elizabeth Sowell from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, California, imaged the brains of 1,099 children, adolescents and young adults in several U.S. cities. Their findings revealed that children from the lowest income bracket of less than $25,000 had up to six percent less surface area than children from families making more than $150,000. Within the poorest families themselves, income inequalities of a few thousand dollars were associated with major differences in brain structure and cognitive skills.

Within countries that live on less than a dollar a day, researchers have found other developmental problems such as stunted growth and cognitive issues. In an unprecedented study conducted in 1960, a team of researchers began giving out nutritional supplements to young children in rural Guatemala. The study was aimed at collecting data to test the theory that providing enough supplements during a child’s formative years would help in reducing stunted growth. This theory was proved in the early 2000s, when the researchers returned to check on the children who had received the supplements in the first three years of their life. They found that not only did the children grow one to two centimeters more than the control group; they even scored higher in cognitive tests. This experiment proved the effects of poverty on the brain development of children.

In 2006, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a study into the heights and weights of children between birth and age five in Brazil, Ghana, India, Norway, Oman and the United States. The results showed that healthy children, regardless of their home countries, follow a very similar growth trajectory. Based on these results, the WHO established benchmarks for atypical growth. In countries like Bangladesh, India, Guatemala and Nigeria, over 40 percent of children meet the definition of stunted growth. In light of the growing awareness and consensus around effects of stunting, the WHO included the reduction in the number of children under five with stunted growth by 40 percent as one of its six global nutritional targets for 2025.

Similar studies were conducted in Brazil, Peru, Jamaica, the Philippines, Kenya and Zimbabwe, all with the same conclusion. However, pediatric cognitive development is a complex multidimensional problem and not all stunted growth, which affects an estimated 160 million children worldwide, is connected to malnutrition. Malnutrition is one side of this multifaceted problem; poor sanitation, stressful home environments, exposure to industrial chemicals, lack of access to good education and income disparities are other possible factors.

It would not be an overstatement to say that all research points to an urgent need to address the problem of world poverty. Factors such as lack of education, poor hygiene, lack of pre-post-natal care, nutritional deficiency, exposure to chemicals and stressful childhood are some of the paralyzing issues faced by those in extreme poverty. The daunting effects of poverty on the brain development of children have already been proven by researchers and new research and studies are further fortifying what is already known. In essence, even as officials start to take action in providing adequate nutrition, research cannot be clearer in building the case for the urgent need to eliminate world poverty.

Jagriti Misra

Photo: Flickr

Effects of Poverty on Society Violence
Issues like hunger, illness, and poor sanitation are all causes and effects of poverty. That is to say, that not having food means being poor, but being poor also means being unable to afford food or  clean water. The effects of poverty are often interrelated so that one problem rarely occurs alone. Bad sanitation makes one susceptible to diseases, and hunger and lack of clean water makes one even more vulnerable to diseases. Impoverished countries and communities often suffer from discrimination and end up caught in a cycle of poverty.

 

Effects of Poverty on Society

 

The vicious cycle of poverty means that lifelong barriers and troubles are passed on from one generation to the next. Unemployment and low incomes create an environment where children are unable to attend school. Children must often work to provide an income for their family. As for children who are able to go to school, many fail to see how hard work can improve their lives as they see their parents struggle at every day tasks. Other plagues accompanying poverty include:

  • Crippling accidents as a result of unsafe work environments—consider the recent building collapse in Bangladesh.
  • Poor housing—a long-lasting cause of diseases.
  • Water and food related diseases that occur simply because the poor cannot afford “safe” foods.

Ultimately, poverty is a major cause of social tensions and threatens to divide a nation because of income inequality. This occurs when the wealth of a country is poorly distributed among its citizens—when a tiny minority has a majority of the money. Wealthy or developed countries maintain stability because of the presence of a middle class. However, even Western countries are gradually losing their middle class. As a result there has been an increased number of riots and clashes. For society, poverty is a very dangerous factor that can destabilize an entire country. The Arab Spring is a great example of how revolts can start because of few job opportunities and high poverty levels.

 

Child Poverty

 

The number of children affected by poverty has been increasing since the 1960s. Children are those with the least amount choice and ability to change their circumstances. There is very little they can do to help their families, nor should they have to. Usually by the age of six they can be enrolled in child labor. Nearly all the potential effects of poverty impact the lives of children—poor infrastructure, unemployment, malnutrition, domestic violence, child labor, and disease. Simply analyzing the effects of child poverty on education in developed countries alone reveal some disturbing statistics:

  • Children from poor backgrounds lag behind at all stages of education.
  • By the age of three, poorer children are estimated to be nine months behind children from wealthier backgrounds.
  • By the end of primary school, students receiving free school meals are estimated to be about three terms behind their peers.
  • By 14, this gap increases to over five terms.
  • By 16, children receiving free school meals are about 1.7 grade points below their more affluent peers’ average GPA.

 

Effects of Poverty and Violence

 

The effect of poverty on terrorism is not as straightforward as the media often perceives it to be. Poverty fuels terrorism by creating a state of misery and frustration that pushes people to join terrorist organizations. But more research shows, it is more complicated.

Of course, some terrorists come from poor countries with high unemployment, and terrorist organizations often provide higher salaries than other jobs. But terrorism may not be a direct effect of poverty. So what is the source of frustration and anger?

Studies show that countries with weak governments, fragile institutions, and limited civil rights are a great environment to nurture the production of terrorist activity. Countries undergoing difficult transitions—i.e. from authoritarian to democratic regime—often encounter political instability with the blurring of certain rules and laws.

These periods of profound change come with a transformation of social order, values, and methods of governing that many people may find distressing and unsettling. Therefore, stabilizing and empowering political institutions is a crucial part of fighting against the dangerous consequences of poverty.

– Scarlet Shelton

Sources: Poverties.org, CPAG, UK Government

Addiction and Poverty
It is common knowledge that poverty and substance abuse tend to exist in tandem. The direction of causation is unclear, but the link between addiction and poverty is certainly to be considered.

A study by the National Bureau for Economic Research studied the relationship between poverty and drug abuse, specifically marijuana and cocaine. The study found that there was a positive relationship between poverty and substance abuse, even when controlling for various familial factors—implying that substance abuse may even be a casual factor of poverty. A limitation of the study was that it could not account for the drug usage of the homeless and others, which further strengthened the case that drug usage may be a causal factor of poverty.

And yet, it still isn’t that simple. The study had other limitations. The drug usage was self-reported, the population studied was highly biased (mostly poor already), and assumptions on preferences and educational effects (among others) could not be proved. Nonetheless, it seems that there is a definitive relationship between drugs and poverty, and perhaps even some causal effect.

 

Poverty and Addition: Directly or Inversely Related?

 

But could the causal effect also run the other way? Quite possibly. A study from Duke University found that economically stressed children later in life experienced higher rates of tobacco usage (but not binge drinking or marijuana). The researchers attributed this effect to poverty’s impact on self-control. Although the study did not find increases in marijuana usage or other drugs, the causal chain between poverty and eventual drug usage was established.

Although evidence seems to suggest that, to some degree, drug usage can “cause” poverty, extending this logic to an extreme would be absurd. Substance abuse is not the sole driving force behind the worldwide phenomena of poverty; people born into poverty cannot have been driven to poverty by drug usage. There must be more to explain the relationship that clearly exists.

Another research paper suggests that literacy, education, poverty, income equality and unemployment are factors that lead to drug abuse, further complicating the relationship.

Conflicting papers do lead to an obvious but important point. Poverty and addiction are interlinked. Conjoined at the hip, both issues feed off each other and their effects strengthen their respective feedback loops. Poverty leads to mental states which can lead to drug abuse which leads to addiction, which begets crime, which leads to worse employment prospects. A flow diagram to show the effects and directions that these two conditions could lead to would be a huge circular mess, with arrows flying in all directions.

The question then becomes, how does a government fight poverty or substance abuse? Based on existing evidence, perhaps the best answer is that one problem cannot be adequately addressed without also attending to the other.

Martin Yim

Sources: NBER, Duke Medicine, International Journal of Basic & Applied Sciences
Photo: The Province

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