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Spatial poverty traps: an overview

Working paper

Written by Kate Bird, Daniel Harris

Working paper

Billions of people around the world live in spatial poverty traps – geographic pockets of poverty, disadvantage and marginalisation. Spatial poverty traps are found in detached, remote rural areas and also in the burgeoning slums of cities. They are home to large numbers of people: around 1.8 billion people live in ‘less favoured,’ ‘low potential’ areas, and around 1 billion people live in slums in the developing world (Pender and Hazell, 2000, in CPRC, 2004; World Bank, 2008). 

The geographic variation in poverty, and in development outcomes more broadly, has sparked significant interest over the past decade. Paul Krugman’s Nobel Prize winning work explores the spatial dimensions of economic activity (Fujita et al., 1999; Krugman, 1991). Jyotsna Jalan and Martin Ravallion analyse the relationship between neighbourhood endowments and household productivity (Jalan and Ravallion, 1997, 2002). The Chronic Poverty Research Centre (CPRC) examines the relationship between remoteness and long-duration or chronic poverty (CPRC, 2004). Ravi Kanbur and Tony Venables led a comprehensive research project investigating spatial disparities and development policy (Kanbur and Venables, 2005). And the 2009 World Development Report – Reshaping Economic Geography – is a policy-focused investigation of economic geography and development policy (World Bank, 2008). All of this work has confirmed that ‘place’ and ‘space’ are significant determinants in development, and worthy of policy attention. 

This paper provides an introductory overview of a joint Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and CPRC Working Paper Series on ‘Spatial Poverty Traps – What Are They and What Can Be Done About Them?’ This series seeks to progress thinking and debate on the spatial dimensions of development, with a specific focus on poverty. The series is interdisciplinary in nature, including papers by geographers, economists, anthropologists and political scientists. It captures evidence from a range of low-income countries. The series is policy-focused: as well providing insights into the nature of spatial poverty in low-income countries, our hope is that the series provides tractable and realistic policy advice on how policies and programmes can think through and address poverty resulting from spatial disadvantage.

Kate Bird, Kate Higgins and Dan Harris