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Absolute Poverty vs. Relative Poverty: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on February 12, 2024
Absolute poverty refers to the lack of basic necessities for survival, while relative poverty is being considerably poorer than the average population standard.

Key Differences

Absolute poverty is defined by the inability to meet essential life needs like food, shelter, and healthcare. In contrast, relative poverty describes a condition where individuals have significantly less income and resources compared to the average in their society, affecting their standard of living and ability to integrate socially.
Absolute poverty is measured against a fixed standard or poverty line, often based on income and basic needs. Relative poverty, on the other hand, is measured relative to the economic status of other people in the same society, often considering the median income levels.
Absolute poverty is a global concern, often addressed in developing countries. Relative poverty is more context-specific, varying greatly from one country or region to another based on local economic conditions and societal norms.
The criteria for absolute poverty remain relatively stable over time, while the standards for relative poverty can change as the overall wealth and living standards of a society evolve.
People experiencing absolute poverty struggle for survival, often lacking access to education and healthcare, whereas those in relative poverty face social exclusion and limited access to better opportunities despite having basic needs met.

Comparison Chart


Lack of basic life necessities
Economic condition markedly worse than societal average

Measurement Criteria

Fixed standard (e.g., poverty line)
Relative to others in the same society

Typical Location

Often in developing countries
Can occur in any society, developed or developing

Variation Over Time

Criteria relatively stable
Criteria change with societal wealth and standards

Main Consequences

Survival struggle, lack of basic services
Social exclusion, limited access to opportunities

Absolute Poverty and Relative Poverty Definitions

Absolute Poverty

A measure of poverty based on the minimum level of income needed for basic living.
Absolute poverty encompasses more than income, including access to services.

Relative Poverty

A state of living where people have less access to resources than others in their society.
People in relative poverty struggle to afford common social activities and amenities.

Absolute Poverty

The condition of being unable to afford minimal standards of food, clothing, healthcare, and shelter.
Absolute poverty is evident when individuals cannot afford basic healthcare.

Relative Poverty

Being poor as compared to the living standards of the majority in a society.
Despite having a roof over their heads, many in relative poverty cannot afford other basic needs.

Absolute Poverty

Poverty measured by a predetermined threshold typically recognized globally.
Families living on less than $1.90 a day are considered in absolute poverty.

Relative Poverty

A condition where household income is a certain percentage below median incomes.
Families earning significantly less than their community average are in relative poverty.

Absolute Poverty

A severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation, health, shelter, and education.
Absolute poverty affects children's ability to attend school and receive an education.

Relative Poverty

Economic disparity where individuals fall far behind the average income or wealth of their society.
Relative poverty is often linked to social exclusion and inequality.

Absolute Poverty

A state where basic human needs for survival are not met.
People living in absolute poverty in some regions lack clean water and food.

Relative Poverty

A measure of income inequality, highlighting the gap between the poor and the rest in a society.
Relative poverty measures how some are left behind in a generally prosperous society.


What are typical indicators of absolute poverty?

Lack of food, clean water, shelter, healthcare, and education.

What factors indicate relative poverty?

Income significantly lower than the societal median, leading to social exclusion.

Can absolute poverty exist in developed countries?

It's less common, but absolute poverty can occur in developed countries, especially among the homeless.

Are absolute poverty levels static across the globe?

The threshold for absolute poverty is generally consistent globally, but may vary slightly by country.

How do international organizations measure absolute poverty?

By using international poverty lines, like living on less than $1.90 a day.

What influences the threshold for relative poverty?

The median income and living standards of a particular society.

What is absolute poverty?

Absolute poverty is the condition where individuals lack basic necessities for survival.

How is relative poverty defined?

Relative poverty refers to having significantly less income and resources than the average in a society.

Is relative poverty more common in developed nations?

Yes, relative poverty is often more noticeable in developed countries due to higher living standards.

How does absolute poverty affect children?

It impacts their health, education, and future opportunities.

What is the societal impact of relative poverty?

It can lead to social divisions, inequality, and reduced social cohesion.

Can economic growth alone solve absolute poverty?

While helpful, it also requires targeted policies and resource distribution.

What role does government policy play in addressing absolute poverty?

Government policies focus on providing basic services and support to those in absolute poverty.

How do social welfare programs impact relative poverty?

They aim to reduce income inequality and provide better opportunities for those in relative poverty.

Is escaping relative poverty challenging?

It can be, as it often requires broader societal changes and personal economic improvement.

What strategies are employed to reduce relative poverty?

Focusing on income equality, social welfare, and inclusive policies.

Does economic growth always reduce relative poverty?

Not necessarily, as relative poverty also depends on income distribution and social policies.

Does relative poverty change over time?

Yes, as societal wealth and standards improve, the relative poverty threshold may change.

Can someone escape absolute poverty?

Yes, through economic development, education, and access to basic services.

What is the main focus in combating absolute poverty?

Ensuring access to basic necessities and improving living conditions.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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