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10 Social Science Research Articles on Poverty

Poverty is a chronic deprivation of the material and social resources necessary for the basic enjoyment of life. It is not as simple as having a low income. Those experiencing poverty also lack the power to speak freely, to protect their bodies, and to access quality services. Plus, the negative impacts of global phenomena like climate change are amplified for someone who is poor.

This collection of adapted research articles provides students with approachable, empirical evidence of social science research on the complex dimensions of poverty. Engage students with standards-matched adaptations, introductory video content, comprehension questions, and vocabulary to further your lesson outcomes. Each adapted article also comes with additional suggestions for activities to enhance student understanding and make the class more exciting.

1. Can electricity reach the billion people who live without it?

Abstract: Living in the U.S., it is hard to imagine a life without reliable and unlimited access to affordable electricity. Globally, however, 1.3 billion people – four times the population of the U.S. – lack this basic resource. We did extensive fieldwork where we studied the services that new solar power energy systems could provide, the economics, and the ‘supply chain’ to get lamps and other new technologies sold in rural communities. What we see in the field is a revolution where small family-scale energy systems provide lighting, cell phone charging, televisions, and refrigerators all powered by solar cells. The change is not only in the source of energy but in the business model, too. A rural family in Kenya can now pay their electrical bill using a mobile phone and an online payment system. With electric lights to study, students in rural Kenya (and elsewhere) have a better opportunity to graduate from school. Never in history have we had so many choices about where to get our electricity and how to pay for it.

This article is suitable for middle school and lower high school students.

  • Key terms: renewable energy
  • Scientific figures: line graph, pictograph, scatterplot, time series graph
  • Scientific methods: case study

2. Can Sub-Saharan Africa feed itself?

Abstract: By the year 2050, the world’s population will need 60% more food than it did in 2005. In sub-Saharan Africa (we’ll call it SSA) this problem will be even greater, with the demand for cereals increasing by more than three times as the population rises. We collected and calculated farming data for 10 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. This made us realize that countries in SSA must make many large changes to increase their yield of cereals (the amount of cereals that are grown on the current farmland each year) to meet this greater demand. If countries in SSA are unable to increase cereal yield, there are two options. Either farmland areas will have to increase drastically, at the expense of natural land, or SSA will need to buy more cereal from other countries than it does today. This may put more people in these countries at risk of not having enough food to be able to live healthily.

This article is suitable for high school students.

  • Key terms: farming, food security
  • Scientific figures: bar graph, map, pictograph
  • Scientific methods: climate scenarios, data extrapolation, data validation, policy analysis, representative sampling, scientific modeling

3. How does climate change affect poor people in Africa?

Abstract: Our planet is warming up! That doesn’t mean we will have nicer weather, though. It means we have weather events that are more extreme. Floods, droughts, and heat waves are more powerful and are happening more often. People lose their homes, jobs, and eat less food. And poor people suffer the most! People who are very poor do not have enough resources to handle the effects of extreme weather events. To help them in the future, we need a good understanding of what is happening now.  We studied one of the poorest regions in the world, sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). We analyzed data from thousands of families living all across the continent and looked at what happens to them when extreme weather events occur. We found that floods had a worse impact than heatwaves and droughts. Finally, we predicted that because of climate change, the number of people living in poverty there could increase in 10 years. Our results could be very useful for planning ways to help people in Africa. 

This article is suitable for middle school students.

  • Key terms: climate change, drought, flood, heat wave, weather
  • Scientific figures: map, time series graph
  • Scientific methods: climate scenarios, survey research

4. How does your address affect your chances of being evicted?

Abstract: The idea of losing your home is scary. If a renter struggles to pay their landlord, the landlord may start the legal process of eviction. The renter has the opportunity to present their case in court, but they typically must show up in person and on time. And if they don’t? In some places, the landlord will receive a default judgment. This allows them to move forward with the eviction. We wondered about renters traveling to the courthouse using public transportation. Does their travel time affect their probability of receiving a default judgment? We studied 200,000 eviction cases across fifteen years in Philadelphia, PA. We found that renters with longer travel times to the courthouse are more likely to receive a default judgment in favor of their landlord. But this effect was not present during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is because renters could attend their court hearing virtually, via video call. Our findings show that the location and accessibility of a courthouse can affect the outcomes of individual cases.

This article is suitable for high school students. We offer a video version of this research:

  • Key terms: economics, inequality, politics, poverty
  • Scientific figures: line graph, map
  • Scientific methods: policy analysis

5. How can we help extremely poor people earn more money?

Abstract: How much money do you think you’d need to cover the essentials for one day? It is difficult to imagine how a family lives on less than $1.25 a day, but one-fifth of the world’s population does exactly that. How does your daily living cost compare? It’s likely to be a lot more than $1.25! We conducted a study in six different countries to find out if providing extremely poor people with livelihoods (sources of income), training and food support could enable them to escape extreme poverty. We tested if such an intervention had made sustainable (long-lasting) improvements in the lives of these people by collecting results after the support had ended and comparing their results to others who did not receive the intervention. We found that on average households had indeed improved. This shows that giving the poorest of the poor a way to make a living, as well as the support to keep that going, is an effective way to reduce extreme poverty.

This article is suitable for high school students.

  • Key terms: food security, sustainability
  • Scientific figures: map, pie chart
  • Scientific methods: experiment, survey research

6. Your house is cold – so what?

Abstract: Have you ever felt cold at home? Shivered in your room? We knew New Zealand had a big problem with cold housing but we wanted evidence, especially on youth experiences. We surveyed 14-16-year-old students in multiple schools in different climate zones around the country. Overall we found 77% felt cold in their homes during the winter at some point. This resulted in many restrictions in their lives, for example, how many rooms they use in the house. New Zealand’s government is looking for ways to solve the problem of energy poverty. We wanted to present ideas for solutions from youth. Therefore, young people were involved at all stages of this research: from questionnaire design to research reporting.

This article is suitable for middle school and lower high school students.

  • Key terms: poverty
  • Scientific figures: bar graph, map
  • Scientific methods: survey research

7. Do hot neighborhoods affect everyone equally?

Abstract: Have you ever noticed how it can be really hot on the sidewalk, but comfortable and cool under a tree? In a city, where there are lots of buildings and roads, it can get hotter than the countryside. There is a name for this: the urban heat island effect. We wanted to know whether the urban heat island effect affects everyone in cities equally. We looked at data about 175 big cities in the United States. It turns out that people of color have higher exposure to the urban heat island effect than white people in all but six of these cities! Poor people also usually have higher exposure. Climate change is going to make hot days even hotter. We hope that city leaders use our data to help neighborhoods prepare for climate change.

This article is suitable for middle school and lower high school students. An audio version is available, as well as Ask-A-Scientist interviews with two of the original researchers: Dr. T.C. Chakraborty and Dr. Glenn Sheriff.

  • Key terms: climate change, discrimination, heat wave, inequality, racism
  • Scientific figures: bar graph, map
  • Scientific methods: observation, risk analysis, survey research

8. Could higher junk food taxes reduce obesity?

Abstract: Do you like eating junk food? While it might taste great, it’s highly processed food which can lead to obesity. Obesity is a problem not only in richer countries, where people have higher incomes but also in poorer countries, where at the same time many people are underweight. We wanted to see if a tax on highly processed foods could have an effect on obesity rates. To evaluate that we used import tariffs as a measurement tool and created a statistical model. We found out that increasing the price difference between healthier foods and highly processed foods could be a useful step toward reducing obesity in some countries, but could also worsen the issue with being underweight, sometimes even within the same country.

This article is suitable for high school students.

  • Key terms: dietary choices, economics, food security
  • Scientific figures: data table, pictograph
  • Scientific methods: data reconstruction, policy analysis, proxy data, scientific modeling

9. What’s the connection between poverty and race in U.S. schools?

Abstract: Have your parents ever told you that you should be glad you can go to school – that kids in some other countries are not so lucky? Well, this is true, but it leaves out the fact that even in the U.S. not all children have the same opportunities in the educational system. Black and Hispanic students are especially likely to go to very poor schools which offer lower-quality education than richer schools. These students often achieve less during their school years than their peers in richer schools, without it being their fault.

This article is suitable for lower high school students.

  • Key terms: discrimination, inequality, racism
  • Scientific figures: bar graph
  • Scientific methods: data reconstruction, scientific modeling

10. How can we empower girls to end poverty?

Abstract: Not having enough money to buy everything we want can be disappointing. But true poverty is not having enough money for basic human needs like food, clothing, or a place to live. Governments and organizations are looking for effective ways to help people escape poverty. Some programs give people cash unconditionally – meaning it is given with no strings attached. Others give them conditional cash – for example, only if their children attend school. So which approach is more effective? We compared the impacts of unconditional and conditional cash for schoolgirls in Malawi, Africa. Unconditional cash improved girls’ well-being and reduced teen marriage and pregnancy rates. But the positive effects disappeared when the money stopped. Conditional cash led to the girls achieving more at school. Each approach has its unique benefits. We think implementing them together would be a more effective tool to fight poverty than either approach alone.

This article is suitable for high school students.

  • Key terms: economics, poverty
  • Scientific figure: data table, bar graph
  • Scientific methods: experiment, policy analysis

That’s Not All!

For more content check out our complete collection of adapted research articles on poverty, economics, inequality, discrimination, racism, and climate change.

Photo by Nicola Barts

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