Escaping poverty: patterns and causes of poverty exits in rural Bangladesh

This paper uses findings from 293 life-history interviews, conducted by the author and a small team of researchers in rural Bangladesh in 2007, to examine what can be learned about patterns of exit from poverty. The author argues that narrative-based studies of how individuals move out of, or into poverty can complement variable-based analyses of aggregate poverty trends. The analysis of poverty exits in this paper shows that individuals on trajectories of long-term improvement in wellbeing tend to more effectively exploit a limited set of work-oriented or asset-related opportunity types, and many of these can be identified from life-history interviews. The most important of these included, in order of frequency across the set of life histories: rural farm and non-farm-related businesses (some supported by loans); land asset accumulation, livestock production; remittances and support from sons’ and (to a lesser extent) daughters’ incomes; and crop production. Life histories also show that individuals enjoying long-term wellbeing improvement differed in key ways from people showing trajectories of long-term wellbeing decline. The paper explores these differences and discusses implications for both productive and protective poverty reduction policies.