Statistics on Poverty in India


1. World Bank numbers
2. Indian government numbers
3. Inequality
4. Alternative poverty measurement

1. World Bank numbers

The World Bank, which defines poverty as survival on less than $1.25 per day, says India reduced poverty from 60% of the population to 42% between 1981 and 2005. The number in 2010 was 33%. 33% stands for about 400 million people. Because of population growth, this number of 400 million isn’t much below the number of some decades ago:

global poverty decline


Even at a $5 a day poverty line (which is less than a third of the U.S. poverty line), 96 percent of Indians are poor (source).

An estimated 29.8% of Indians live below the country’s national poverty line in 2010 (see point 2 below). Here are two graphs showing the evolution of the poverty rate – perfcentages of poor Indians – according to the World Bank numbers:

poverty reduction in China, India and Brazil


India poverty rate 1981-2009

An impressive improvement, although not as impressive as China’s (see also the first graph above). Also, India’s 400 million poor people account for one-third of all poor people:

poverty in india and china


The state of Uttar Pradesh alone has 8% of the world’s population who live in extreme poverty. However, it’s not India’s poorest state. With a population of 100 million people, Bihar is poorest. Average income is $294 per year, less than all but two Sub-Saharan African countries. More than half of children under 3 suffer from malnutrition. One in three malnourished children are Indian, and rates of malnutrition are higher in India than in sub-Saharan Africa. Nearly a third of all newborn deaths occur in India.

Interesting factoid: if income in India were distributed completely equally, the entire nation would still be living on less than half the UK poverty line. (The UK poverty line is a relative line: you’re poor in the UK when your income after tax is below 60% of the national median).

While the trend in India is going in the right direction, our optimism should be womewhat tempered when we consider that 43% of Indian children are still malnourished, and that is also a third of the world’s total. In India, 42% of children under five years of age are underweight. 58% of children under five surveyed are stunted. Over 35% of Indians are illiterate, and more than 20 million children are out of school.

The main causes of the reduction in the poverty rate over the last decade are undoubtedly the “green revolution” and, in recent years, the steady economic growth (I argued here that there is, generally, a correspondence between faster per capita economic growth and faster poverty reduction).

Here’s how South Asia – which is almost entirely India – compares to East Asia and Africa, in absolute numbers of people now rather than in percentages of population:

poverty in south and east asia


Here’s another graph showing the absolute numbers of people below the World Bank poverty line (also compared to China and Africa):

poverty china india africa


The number of poor people has grown in South Asia, but that’s partly because the total population has grown. The proportation of poor people in the total population has come down recently, after decades of stagnation:

poverty in South Asia

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2. Indian government numbers

The government of India uses a method to measure poverty that is different from the World Bank measurement: given that an average adult male has to eat food representing approximately 2000-2500 calories per day in order to sustain the human body, how much would it cost to buy these calories? Those who have an income that is lower than this cost, are considered poor.

Actually, the Indian government uses the thresholds of 2,400 calories a day in rural areas and 2,100 in urban areas. (City dwellers are thought to exert less energy, so they should need to consume less. See here).

This translates into an official poverty line set at 26 rupees (around $0.53) per person per day in rural areas and 32 rupees in urban areas (reflecting the different cost of food in cities). This calorie based measure was developed in the early 1970s. Subsequently, the poverty line has simply been updated using consumer price indices. The official line delivers a current poverty rate of around 30% of the population, as opposed to 33% according to the World Bank.

poverty rate in india 1974-2000

(source, this graph uses the percentage of the population in poverty, or headcount poverty; the measure of poverty used is the one based on calorie intake described above; this information comes from the National Sample Survey (NSS), which tracks consumption by a representative sample of the population – survey data only available for the years in the graph)

Of course, the Indian system, like all poverty measures, can be criticized. A person may be able to afford to buy food that contains 2,400 calories, but the quality or nutritional value of this food (in terms of vitamins etc.) may be so low that we can hardly exclude this person from the population of the poor. He or she may be able to buy 2,400 calories, but not enough nutritional value to lead a decent life.

However, if we take this measurement at face value we see that caloric intake does indeed mirror the poverty statistics in a satisfactory way. Compare the graph above to the one below:

average calorie intake in india 1961-1999


However, a more damning criticism of India’s poverty measurements is that it includes only consumption of food. Poverty is more than just a nutritional issue. People may be able to buy enough food of sufficient nutritional quality, but may be left without resources for shelter, healthcare, education etc.

Some more Indian government data:

poverty in india


Conclusion: the exact extent of poverty in India is disputed. There is a paper on this controversy here or here. More on poverty in India here.

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3. Inequality

Regarding inequality – which according to some is the better measure of poverty – we see that there has been a deterioration in India’s cities, but not in the country as a whole (see the second graph on this page):

inequality in India


Here’s another measure of inequality:

income inequality india

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4. Alternative poverty measurement

India’s census form ask whether people own certain basic assets such as TV, phone, radio or bicycle. People who mention that they don’t own any of these can be considered poor. The map below colour-codes India’s districts according to the proportion of  households without these assets in each district. Lighter-coloured districts are “better off”:

assetless households in India


In total, around 18% of households are “asset-less”. This poverty rate is a lot lower than the official one.

Just one example: only 18 Indians in every 1,000 own a car. In China the figure is 58, according to the World Bank, while in most European countries it is more than 500. India’s level of car ownership per capita is even lower than in Sudan, or Afghanistan (source).

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49 thoughts on “Statistics on Poverty in India

  1. Pingback: Measuring Poverty (7): Different Types of Poverty « P.A.P. Blog – Human Rights Etc.

  2. The stats that given by the blog is not better than any ocvernmental report. The world bank etc are giving a better picture and thair assessment mechanism is a better rated worldwide. The politicians and the buerocrats always make the fake results to satisfy the international community on humen rights etc. to highlight the GDP growth related facts and come with the imaginary figures.
    To wipe out the real problem of poverty we have to distribute the land to the poor and thereby we can create job and erradicate the poverty to 100%. Not only the poverty but we can also erradicate the caste system which is the most indescent rated things in the world. Even the international public speaker and Trainer Mr. Robert T. Kiosaki and the famous Shivkhera in his book” you can win” blames India strongly. Poverty and caste system are the international shame and blame on Indias face.

  3. saurabh agrawal says:

    sala kuta log 2010 ka dalo bahut purana ho gaya ha 2000 ka kamino website ko handle karna nahi aata kya 2 sal sa khola nahi ho kya

  4. brothers in alms…we got to appreciate our friend here who atleast thinks about some shit and writing about it. Our fellow bhai beheno are all chilling out having a good time…free the graphs and all that atleast there is someone thinking about stuff. do you guys think i am thinking too positive or something…?

  5. Pingback: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics (7): “Drowning” Data | P.a.p.-Blog, Human Rights Etc.

  6. jyothi sasi says:

    rspected citizens of india,
    no use blaming india guys…………….govt. is of the people… v got to do sumthing……………….so join ur hands together to help the poor when v have got a lot
    please its a very humble request……………………how many of u can do it sincerely………………..let u be muslim or hindu or christian or any other religion …………………but stand as an indian for this at least………..
    JAI HIND!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. hari krishnan says:

    hello readers,
    India is our country. its our responsible to save and develope our nation.lets join hands to develope our nation and decrease the worst term “poverty”.jaihind………………………….

  8. I never ever care about the Statistics which will just shows the ups and downs.

    When the Needy still suffers; Why there is a need of an useless invention:

    Whereas this investments can be used in Feeding the ‘HUNGRY’ and Educating the ‘ILLITERATES’ which can eventually reduce ‘Poverty’.

    Kindly do not believe the IPL – ‘Indian Political League’ (INDIAN POLITICS) which is only a business like IPL – Indian Premier League (T20).

    I request all the INDIANS who sees this comment to come up with some solution which you can afford.

  9. The method to measure poverty in India is out-dated and unsuitable to present circumstaces of continuous deprivation of opportunities and chances. Jumble of parameters should be avoided for constructing the measurement of poverty in India. For measurement of poverty, only two causal factors- income and employment, and three impact factors- health, knowledge and standard of living should be used as parameters: thereis need for reconsideration of measurement of poverty as well as poverty line in India.

  10. hello readers,
    here we are creating awareness for the eradication of poverty.
    India is our country. its our responsible to save and develope our nation.lets join hands to develope our nation and decrease the worst term “poverty”.
    I request all the INDIANS who sees this comment to come up with some solution which you can afford.

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  12. Pingback: Economic Human Rights (39): Does the Concept of Poverty Collapse Under the Weight of Historical Comparisons? | P.a.p.-Blog, Human Rights Etc.

  13. Pingback: Does technology hod the key to global peace and justice? | MintPress

  14. skyscraper says:

    Govt. Why people get pooor what hail u r doing? Taking crore of Rupees. What happinng with aa money of cores

  15. when i see little childrens working on hotels, doing rag picking , assisting drivers in tempo and autos i feel bad and starts thinking can,t we do anything for them.they are slso citiens of the same country of which we are . we think we should “do”. why don’t think “let’s DO”. So please join your hands to eradicate poverty from its root so that these poor people can also have a FOGLESS FUTURE.JAI HIND. JAI BHARAT.

  16. sowmiya says:

    india ia a democratic country,its has all wealth,etc..etc…but whats the benefit.we people should stand together and we must help,we cant help 100,just can one.our pleadge is all indians are my brothers and sisters,then how can we tolerate our brothers and sisters help them.

  17. Ashvin says:

    Hey guys im really happy today after seeing all ur comments … Felt like many ppl r really eager to do some thing good for the Poor people jus like me… I jus need some hands to join .. Shal v start … We have to talk abt dis b4 going into action … Please do reply me . Wil b waiting for ur reply … Thank u …

  18. Kalyann Koti says:

    Hi hello guys dis iz kalyann koti-am just 19…am writing a novel on our country n very soon i’l release it may b on june coz itz still in progress n wen d tym i release it i’l create a website to join al of ur hands as one…so please frndz send mails to me if u r interestd to do smthng n fight for our nation to b as a well developed country…i really very glad to see ur cmnts n ur responses to do sthng for our country…its our nation v ppl nly cn do sthng for our nation nobdy vl cme n no one change our fate…itz only in our hands…if sthng iz wrong in hme v dnt sit as idol na v quickly react to that n solve that prblm bt wen itz cme to our nation v dnt react soon coz v ppl thnk smbdy vl cme n do that…dnt thnk so no vl cme n change it…see mahatma gandhi, subhash chandra bose, alluri seetha rama raju, dr. B.R.ambedkar etc al dis gr8 leaders r nt r frm abroad they r also nly indians n they cme frm us nly…so my dears today society iz totally messed up wid corruption, poverty, illeteracy, gang rapes on womens etc etc so many so many prblms r there…so letz join our handz n solve our prblms as one coz We Are INDIANS…

    • Basil varghese says:

      i too want to doo something but power is not with me
      frnds i just want to stop the fucking CORRUPTION
      leaders i’m begging its our nation all are equal pls stop it
      i am just 17 and
      i reallly really want to doo and i will dooo it, frnds pls be with me and
      help me help me

      if i get the chance i wont leave the corrupted bare foot PUNISH PUNISH PUNISH

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  22. रिपोर्ट के अनुसार जन खाद्यान्न FCI (Food Corporation of India) के गोदामों में खराब पाया गया। जिससे दस साल तक छः लाख लोगों को भरपेट खाना लि सकता था। वर्ष 1997 से 2007 के बीच 1.83 लाख टन गेहूँ, 6.33 लाख टन चावल, 2.20 लाख टन और 111 लाख टन मक्का FCI के विभिन्न गोदामों में सड़ गई।

  23. Pingback: Human Rights Facts (74): Poverty in China, Africa and India, 1990-2013 | P.a.p.-Blog, Human Rights Etc.

  24. priya says:

    The reason for poverty is that money here goes to only certain groups of people, and others are left empty. so the rich become more and more rich and the poor become more and more poor. To change this situation all organisations should be taken by the government instead of leaving them to private concern. And avoiding the interference of multinational companies in small scale sector.

  25. KARTHICK S says:

    My dear fellow indians. we and our country are not poor. we are happened to be so early by others and now by our fellow people. lets join our hands to fight against corruption which itself make our country rich and eliminate poverty. lets start first from ourself

  26. madhumathi says:


    don’t depend on govt. to reduce the poverty we have to do our work to reduce the poverty.

    it is every human being right.

  27. freeman says:

    Dear all,
    I have suggestion to stop poverty is very important is salary. In India even working peoples are in poverty line, why? Salaries are less. Only in big companies offering good salary. Even a peon must have rights for good standard of life like medical insurance for family, education for children etc..
    We have seen a small businessman started a new business and growth well. His employee getting same salary.
    First of ministry labor should check regular basis on registration or renewal of company whether all employee getting minimum salary on he survive with his family?
    For former, they should educated well how to do good farming etc…

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