Answer to Question #90986 in Sociology for Radhika

Question #90986
Difference between absolute poverty and relative poverty
Expert's answer


Poverty is a state of depravation that denies a person the ability to meet the needs necessary for his survival and wellbeing. Absolute poverty is the deprivation of basic needs including food, clothing, shelter and water. Relative poverty is lack of income and possessions commensurate with those of other people in an individual’s society (Haymes, 2015). This paper briefly discusses the difference between these two types of poverty.

Difference between Absolute and Relative Poverty

           The main difference between absolute and relative poverty is that the former can be quantified while the latter cannot. The World Bank first set living below US $1 a day as the measure of absolute poverty. Later on this figure was revised to US $1.9 a day (Haymes, 2015). It was then possible to gauge those who are living in absolute poverty and those who are not. However, this measurement is not entirely accurate, since lack of such things as clean water and medical services, still confines both those with money and those without, to debilitating deprivation. All the same, these estimates are still widely accepted as the measure of absolute poverty, and are applicable across the globe.

           Relative poverty on the other hand depends on the environment in which one lives. For instance, a person living on less than US $10 a day in New York is considered poor. A person living on the same amount in Maputo, Mozambique is considered fairly well off. It is thus a matter of comparison to those living in the same environment as an individual (Haymes, 2015). It is as much a matter of perception as it is an actual fact. An individual considers himself poor if he cannot match the average living standards set around him. Relative poverty is thus what one owns compared to what others living around him own.


           Absolute poverty is an individual’s lack of a means to meet his basic needs. Relative poverty is lack of wealth by a person compared to those living around him. Absolute poverty can be measured against financial income levels set by organizations such as the World Bank. Relative poverty is determined by the standards of life in one’s environment.


Haymes, S., Vidal de Haymes, M., & Miller, R. Eds. (2015). The Routledge Handbook of Poverty in the United States. London: Routledge, pp. 1–2.

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