Published on Data Blog

85% of Africans live on less than $5.50 per day

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Note: The World Bank uses three poverty lines for global poverty comparisons: $1.90 is the international poverty line (IPL). $3.20 is typical of national poverty lines in lower-middle income countries (LMIC). $5.50 is typical of national poverty lines in upper-middle income countries (UMIC). $15 is the middle-class threshold chosen by a recent World Bank report.

In East Asia and Pacific, there have been drastic changes in the distribution of the population across different poverty lines between 1990 and 2015. As shown above, East Asia and Pacific has been more successful than Sub-Saharan Africa in the fight against extreme poverty. East Asia and Pacific has also seen an expansion of the middle class from less than 1% to almost one-fifth, and a rapid increase in the population living between $5.50 and $15 to almost half of the regional population. This has not happened in Sub-Saharan Africa. The decline in extreme poverty in the region (from around three-fifths to two-fifths of people living in Sub-Saharan Africa) translated primarily into an expansion of the population living below $5.50, with the middle-class accounting for a negligible share of the regional population. Put differently, 85% of Africans are still poor if judged by the standards of upper-middle income countries.

The PovcalNet September 2019 update published last week includes revised survey data that led to minor changes in the most recent global poverty estimates (more details on the changes here). A key feature of PovcalNet is the ability to estimate poverty at any line. Using this functionality, the share of the population in East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa living below $1.90, $3.20, $5.50 and $15 per person per day can be easily estimated and illustrated as in the figure above (replication code available here: R and Stata). $1.90 is the international poverty line used to monitor the number of people living in extreme poverty in the world. $3.20 and $5.50 are higher poverty lines that reflect typical national poverty lines in lower- and upper-middle income countries, respectively (see this report). $15 is used as a threshold to define the lower limit of the middle class (following this report). You can find more information on the global poverty update in this blog.


R. Andres Castaneda Aguilar

Economist, Development Data Group, World Bank

Dean Mitchell Jolliffe

Lead Economist, Living Standards Measurement Study (LSMS), World Bank

Christoph Lakner

Program Manager, Development Data Group, World Bank

Espen Beer Prydz

Economist, Development Data Group

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