Beyond income:
A broader picture of poverty

The way people experience poverty goes beyond living on less than $1.90 a day. Poverty is not only about lacking the means to make ends meet or pay the bills for basic services on time. Poverty is multidimensional and encompasses much more than income.

Are children attending school? Do families have access to healthcare facilities? Are communities receiving regular clean water, sanitation and electricity? These are some of the factors that can illustrate multidimensional poverty, which looks at the different deprivations people face at the same time in different aspects of their lives. Multidimensional poverty captures the reality of living with less than the essentials needed to lead a decent life.

Some 1.3 billion people live in multidimensional poverty, and half of them are younger than 18 years, according to the 2018 global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI).

Poverty dimensions

Red cross




Yellow heart

Living standards

The Index, examining 105 countries and covering almost three quarters of the global population, looks beyond income to understand how people experience poverty in multiple and simultaneous ways. It identifies how people are being left behind across three key dimensions: health, education and living standards, comprising 10 indicators such as lacking access to clean water, adequate nutrition or primary education. People who experience deprivation in at least one third of these weighted indicators fall into the category of multidimensionally poor.



Child mortality

Years of schooling

School attendance

Cooking fuel


Drinking water




But where are all the multidimensionally poor? Multidimensional poverty is found in all developing regions of the world, but it is particularly significant in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where 83 percent of all multidimensionally poor people live. Overall, the countries with the most people living in multidimensional poverty are India, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

In sub-Saharan Africa, some 560 million people (58 percent of the population) are living in multidimensional poverty, 342 million (61 percent of those living in multidimensional poverty) of them severely so. At the same time, in South Asia 546 million people (31 percent of the entire population) are multidimensionally poor, 200 million of them (37 percent) in a severe fashion.

The report also shows a significant difference between urban and rural areas. Globally, there are 1.1 billion people living in multidimensional poverty in rural areas and 200 million in urban settings.

Marginalized and deprived people live in all regions, and there is a risk that their numbers could increase. Some 892 million people face the prospect of falling into multidimensional poverty, which could happen sooner rather than later if they are affected by crisis, natural disasters or the effects of climate change, among other setbacks.

Although the overall numbers depict a brutal reality, there is still cause for optimism. Significant progress has been made, including in many sub-Saharan African countries. In India, 271 million people moved out of poverty between 2005-2006 and 2015-2016; the country’s poverty rate has nearly halved, falling from 55 percent to 28 percent in a decade.

Between 2006 and 2017, life expectancy increased by more than seven years in sub-Saharan Africa, and by almost four years in South Asia. In addition, primary education enrolment rates are up to 100 percent in the African region.

1.3 billion people live in multidimensional poverty


This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the findings of the 2018 MPI show the strong connection between poverty and human rights. The Index reveals how the human rights of poor people around the world are often abused or neglected. As Article 25 of the Declaration states, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.”

To maintain development gains and accelerate progress, the Sustainable Development Goals present a roadmap to end poverty in all its dimensions, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. Three years into the 2030 Agenda, governments, citizens and private sector are working together to meet the Goals’ targets and ensure dignity and wellbeing for everyone.