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This profile is tailored towards students studying law and sociology, however we expect there to be valuable open research questions that could be pursued by students in other disciplines.
Why is this a pressing problem?
Estimates suggest that in 2021, about 9% of the global population were living in extreme poverty, and over 20% of the global population were living below the poverty line. Empirical studies show that citizens of the poorest nations report the lowest happiness, and global poverty means there are hundreds of millions of people across the world who can’t meet their most basic needs such as food, shelter and healthcare due to their economic circumstances.
According to the World Health Organization, ‘(extreme) [p]overty is the main reason why babies are not vaccinated, why clean water and sanitation are not provided, why curative drugs and other treatments are unavailable and why mothers die in childbirth. It is the underlying cause of reduced life expectancy, handicap, disability, and starvation. Poverty is a major contributor to mental illness, stress, suicide, family disintegration and substance abuse.’ Millions of people in poverty die every year from easily and cheaply preventable diseases such as malaria, HIV and tuberculosis. While average life expectancy in the USA and EU is 80 years, in low-income countries such as Nigeria or Angola, life expectancy is close to 50 years.
Although this area isn’t as neglected by researchers as some of the other topics we recommend, global poverty is a huge problem and there is a strong track record of interventions in the area. The vast differences between standards and costs of living in higher and lower income countries mean people from higher-income countries are in an unprecedented position to greatly improve the lives of people in lower-income countries with small amounts of money. Further research comparing the cost-effectiveness of different interventions and developing new interventions could help make interventions even more effective.
Explore existing research
A few of the organisations working on this research direction are below.
- The Center for Global Development is a research centre working to reduce global poverty through economic policy research.
- The Development Innovation Lab does economic research to develop innovations to improve lives in low- and middle-income countries.
- The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) is a research center working to reduce poverty by conducting randomized impact evaluations on poverty interventions.
- The Yale Research Initiative on Innovation and Scale (Y-RISE) researches the effects of policy interventions when delivered at scale.
- Givewell does research to identify the most effective charities working to improve people’s lives in the developing world.
- Innovations for Poverty Action is a research and policy organisation conducting RCTs and evaluations of interventions to reduce poverty.
- The Copenhagen Consensus Center is a think tank researching solutions for global problems, focusing on developing countries.
- Charity Entrepreneurship is an organisation that carries out research to find neglected ways of improving the world and launches nonprofits to meet these needs, including in areas of global health.
- The Center for Effective Aid Policy aims to improve the allocation of spending on development aid by identifying and advocating for particularly cost-effective interventions.
Find a thesis topic
If you’re interested in working on this research direction, below are some ideas that could be particularly valuable to explore further. If you want help refining your research ideas, apply for our coaching!
For other possibilities you could look at these suggestions from the International Growth Centre.
- The immigration of people from low-income countries to high-income countries presents an important opportunity for people in poverty and their families. Comparative research into the most promising country for more open border progression based on happiness levels and openness to immigration could direct the Open Philanthropy Project‘s efforts towards countries with the highest odds of changing their immigration policy. Another question you could focus on is which stage(s) of policy process one should attempt to affect or which particular policy agenda should be promoted. To learn more you could start with this introduction from 80000 Hours, this report on labour mobility from the Open Philanthropy Project and this introductory blog post from open borders.
- Increasing access to pain relief in developing countries: our profile on reducing physical pain explores this area in more detail.
- The immigration of people from low-income countries to high-income countries presents an important opportunity for people in poverty and their families. Comparative research into the most promising country for more open border progression based on happiness levels and openness to immigration could direct the Open Philanthropy Project‘s efforts towards countries with the highest odds of changing their immigration policy. Another question you could focus on is which stage(s) of policy process one should attempt to affect or which particular policy agenda should be promoted. To learn more you could start with this introduction from 80000 Hours, this report on labour mobility from the Open Philanthropy Project and this introductory blog post from open borders. (Charity Entrepreneurship)
- Research aimed at expanding access to preventative interventions for mental health in low- and lower-middle-income countries: our profile on applied mental health explores this area in more detail.
- We can use science to end poverty faster. But how much do governments listen to it anyway? from 80000 Hours
- Ofir Reich on using data science to end poverty and the spurious action/inaction distinction from 80000 Hours
Guides on developing and evaluating interventions
Apply for our coaching and we can connect you directly with researchers and potentially mentors who can help you refine your research ideas. You can also apply to join our community if you’re interested in connecting with other students specifically.
Apply for our database of potential supervisors if you’re looking for formal supervision and take a look at our advice on finding a great supervisor for further ideas.
Our funding database can help you find potential sources of funding if you’re a PhD student interested in this research direction.
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Some of our other recommended research directions are particularly relevant to this area. See the profiles below for a more detailed exploration.
Explore all our recommended research directions
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If you are interested in a profile that isn’t listed under your discipline, we still encourage you to explore it if you think you could make progress in this direction. You can also explore all our recommended research directions organised by theme.
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