Published on Let's Talk Development

Microcredit Borrowers in Bangladesh Are Not Necessarily Trapped in Poverty and Debt as many contended in recent years

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With spectacular growth of microfinance institutions (MFIs) in Bangladesh, there is a growing concern that borrowers might be borrowing from multiple sources and more than they are able to repay, and hence, they are trapped in poverty and debt.  Microfinance programs, operating in Bangladesh for more than two decades, have reached more than 10 million households in 2008, nearly half the rural population, with an annual disbursement close to US$1.8 billion and an outstanding balance of US$1.5 billion.  Multiple program membership has increased over the years: it was nonexistent in 1991/92, 11.9 percent in 1998/99 and 36 percent in 2010/11. 

However, a recent study shows that increased borrowing, even from multiple sources, has not lowered loan recovery rates. 

Also, another recent study observes that microcredit borrowers are not necessarily trapped in poverty and debt. This study analyzes data from a long panel survey over a 20-year period, and finds that although many participants have been with microcredit programs for many years they are not necessarily trapped in debt as the accrued assets due to borrowing outweigh accumulated debt for many borrowers.

The analysis also shows that participants derive a variety of other benefits from microcredit: It helps them earn income and consume more, invest in children’s schooling, and be lifted out of poverty. This is not to say that non-participants, who were eligible to participate but did not participate in a microcredit program, have failed to progress over the same period. In fact, both microcredit participants and non-participants have gained as the economy has grown; however, the rates of poverty reduction have been higher for the participants than for the non-participants.


Shahid Khandker

Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

Hussain Samad

Consultant, Development Research Group, World Bank

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