Publish at November 07 2022 Updated November 07 2022

Understanding Poverty and Inequality

Explore the many facets and faces of poverty and inequality

In September 2015, 193 member states of the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and committed themselves to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are interconnected, recognizing that poverty cannot be eradicated without improved health and education, sustainable economic growth cannot occur on a planet under threat of climate change, and so forth.

Goal 1, “End poverty in all its forms everywhere,” calls on stakeholders at every level to drastically reduce the number of people living in poverty, provide services and assistance to those in need, and ensure the resilience of the poor and vulnerable in times of crisis. SDG 1 builds on earlier calls to cut poverty in lower-income countries by, first, calling for the elimination of extreme poverty worldwide by 2030, and for every country to cut all dimensions of nationally-defined poverty by half by the same date. Goal 1 further draws linkages between poverty and climate disasters, and sets targets for social protection, resource mobilization and policy development. Likewise, Goal 10, “Reduce inequality within and among countries,” calls on stakeholders at all levels to empower the economic, political, and social inclusion of all people; and for governments to work together to provide pathways of opportunity across the world.

This course will present an overview of the definitions, scale, and scope of different forms of poverty and inequality across the world. It will examine links between poverty, inequality, and well-being; opportunities for socioeconomic mobility; the particular challenges facing women, minorities, Indigenous people, and vulnerable populations; and how poverty and inequality link to issues like climate change, migration, and conflict. Finally, the course will conclude with a look at policy approaches and tools for addressing poverty and inequality in a variety of contexts.


  • Module 1: An Introduction to Poverty and Inequality
    • Chapter 1: What do we mean by “poverty” & “inequality”?
    • Chapter 2: Measurement, trends, and rates of change
    • Chapter 3: How does economic growth affect poverty and inequality?
    • Chapter 4: Case study: Poverty reduction in East Asia
    • Chapter 5: Case study: Broad-based growth in Ethiopia
  • Module 2: Multidimensional Measures of Poverty
    • Chapter 1: Multidimensional poverty vs. income poverty: why it matters
    • Chapter 2: Measuring multidimensional poverty
    • Chapter 3: The MPI information platform
    • Chapter 4: Policy approaches to multidimensional poverty
  • Module 3: Explaining Global Inequality
    • Chapter 1: Defining inequality
    • Chapter 2: Measuring income inequality
    • Chapter 3: Global versus within-country inequality
    • Chapter 4: Winners and losers in the global economy
    • Chapter 5: Convergence and poverty hotspots
    • Chapter 6: Tackling inequality
  • Module 4: Poverty and Subjective Well-being
    • Chapter 1: Introducing well-being
    • Chapter 2: Measures of well-being
    • Chapter 3: The U Curve
    • Chapter 4: The Adaptation Conundrum and Progress Paradoxes
  • Module 5: Identity and Exclusion
    • Chapter 1: Inequality, poverty, and social identity
    • Chapter 2: Race and financial inequality
    • Chapter 3: Gendered dimensions of poverty
    • Chapter 4: Inequality and indigenous experience
    • Chapter 5: Case study: Exclusion and inequality in South Africa
    • Chapter 6: Case study: Policing, racism, and colorism in America and beyond
    • Chapter 7: Case study: Worthy of investment: The devaluation of assets in Black American communities
  • Module 6: Poverty and Inequality, Today and Tomorrow
    • Chapter 1: New inequalities of the 21st-century
    • Chapter 2: Poverty, inequality, and the COVID-19 pandemic
    • Chapter 3: Why climate matters for poverty and inequality
    • Chapter 4: The evolution of the global middle class
    • Chapter 5: Mobility, migration, and opportunity
    • Chapter 6A: Fiscal policy, inequality and poverty in low and middle income countries
    • Chapter 6B: Fiscal policy reforms: is UBI a good idea?
    • Chapter 7: Cash transfers for poverty alleviation

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