As global leaders prepare to discuss progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals at the U.N. High Level Policy Forum (HLPF) in early July, the holy grail of the agenda—eradicating extreme poverty—may well seem elusive and complex. On the one hand, there is much to celebrate: Since 2016, according to the World Poverty Clock, the ranks of Earth’s poorest people have decreased by some 55 million. On the other hand, the speed of poverty reduction appears to be slowing down and the situation in a number of countries is worse today than it was five years ago. And yet, while the global community scrambles to find ways to accelerate progress in sub-Saharan Africa—the world’s last frontier of poverty reduction—a new dimension in the poverty narrative is now coming into focus: child poverty.
Building on new modeling methods developed by World Data Lab, it is now possible to provide preliminary estimates of poverty trends in every country of the world disaggregated by age. Of the world’s 2.3 billion children (those less than 18 years of age), 301 million live on less than $1.90/day in 2011 PPP. This means that 13 percent of the world’s children are very poor—compared to 6 percent of adults (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Child poverty is the world’s biggest challenge
Source: World Data Lab projections, 2019
More than half of the world’s poorest people are children, even though they (children) represent only 30 percent of the world’s total population and the results only consider children living in established households. These findings belie an even harder truth: Children remain both a cause of poverty and its consequence. Families with modest incomes risk falling into poverty as their families grow. They need to feed more people often with less income when their mothers stay at home. At the same time, it is poor families who have more children, especially if the mothers did not attend secondary school.
However, the good news is that child poverty is declining across the world and it is declining faster than the poverty rate of adults. Under a base-case scenario, World Data Lab projects that by 2030, child poverty will decline from 301 million today to some 233 million.