Although the world’s population is steadily urbanizing, the great majority of the world’s poor still live in rural areas.

New research on the breakdown between rural and urban poverty shows that 75 percent of those who live on less than $1 per day in developing nations live in the countryside – a higher estimate than many observers expected, given the continued growth of urban slums.

However, there are considerable regional differences in the urban-rural poverty split.

  • In East Asia, more than 90 percent of the poor live in rural areas.
  • Poverty in China, for example, is overwhelmingly rural and is becoming more so.
  • In Latin America and the Caribbean, on the other hand, poverty is more urban in nature, with only 40 percent of the poor residing in the countryside.
  • The rural poor make up 70 percent of all those surviving on $1 per day in sub-Saharan Africa and 75 percent in South Asia.

The persistence of poverty as a rural phenomenon emphasizes the importance of effective rural development models for scaling up poverty reduction.

It also strengthens the case for ecosystem management as a necessary element of such development, since natural ecosystems are one of the principal assets of rural areas -- an asset the poor already use extensively.

SOURCE: Ravallion, R., S. Chen, and P. Sangraula. 2007. New Evidence on the Urbanization of Global Poverty. Summary of World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 4199. Washington, DC: World Bank. 38.