Death, illness and social shocks like daughter's marriage are some of the main reasons that push families in India to poverty, according to a World Bank study.
Based on a survey on 30,000 women and men from 300 villages in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, UP and West Bengal, the report, Moving out of Poverty: The Promise of Empowerment and Democracy in India, found that death and health shocks (34%) followed by social shocks including family divisions and expenses towards marriages of children (27%) and financial setbacks such as high debt or the failure of crops (18%) were some of the main reasons for sliding into poverty.
Death and health-related shocks were major reasons for people falling into poverty in Assam. Family divisions and marriage expenses were mainly responsible for people slipping into poverty in UP, while social shocks were responsible for the poverty of several people in West Bengal.
Many of the poor people said when they tried to change their condition, they found opportunities were blocked. Among the factors that depressed their chances of moving out of poverty, corruption was rated as the biggest hindrance.
Over the 10-year period of the study, people across all communities said bribe-taking had increased everywhere. The starkest rise was in Uttar Pradesh, where the percentage of people who perceived most/all of their local village officials to be corrupt rose from 35% in 1995 to 88% in 2005.
Poor people cited responsive local democratic structures such as rural panchayats as critical in helping them move out of poverty. However, where these institutions were captured by groups based on caste, political affiliations, or economic power, benefits reached only a chosen few.
In UP, people said caste affiliations determined who benefited and who lost -- business licences, jobs or support -- while in Bengal, they felt membership of the ruling party was critical.
Incidentally, poor people in these four states also cited local democratic structures like rural panchayats as critical in helping them move out of poverty. In Andhra Pradesh, loans from self-help groups played a major role in reducing the burden of shocks.
People in Uttar Pradesh reported that an improvement in the local government's attention to citizens' concerns increased their likelihood of moving out of poverty by 6%. By contrast, they felt that an increase in a household head's education level, from illiteracy to primary schooling or from primary to secondary schooling, improved the family's chances of moving up by only 3%.
Jobs (26.6%), individual initiatives in agriculture (19.8%), individual initiatives in non-agriculture (13.7%) and multiple sources of income (12.0%), were also cited as the key reasons for families moving out of poverty.
Many youth showed low preference for agriculture as a career, opting instead for business and government jobs. In UP, 41% wanted to start a new business, while 37% of the youth showed preference for government jobs. In Bengal and Assam, these two options together accounted for 76% and 83%, respectively.