A large donor‐funded programme in Bangladesh implemented multiple measures designed to graduate individuals and households out of extreme poverty. The programme was committed to lesson‐learning and advocacy. It monitored change through socio‐economic surveys, qualitative tracking methods, real time assessment and project evaluations. The qualitative tracking in particular shed light on the nature of extreme poverty and resilience.


Is extreme poverty different from moderate poverty, and in what ways? Do the extreme poor experience more idiosyncratic poverty than structural or systemic poverty? Are the extreme poor more female, socially isolated and marginalised, thus impeding their capabilities? What support is needed to enable recovery and transformation from crises?

Approach and methods

Between 2011 and 2015, 72 life histories of households enrolled in a major poverty reduction programme were conducted, entailing repeated ethnographical engagement with informants. This showed how most households experience ups and downs in their poverty and vulnerability through time: an experience at variance with static understandings of hazards and responses. The limitations of resilience literature are thus critiqued to develop new theory around time preference behaviour and discounting.


Experiences of extreme poverty are not solely a function of systemic, class‐based inequality, but of the varied and reinforcing ways they intersect with idiosyncratic conditions of household life cycles, dependency ratios, gender and age balance, morbidity, ethnic discrimination and social isolation. Four key factors stand out as influencing deep poverty: 1) ill‐health, with significant internal opportunity costs; 2) inter‐generational reproduction; 3) high incidence of female‐managed and ‐headed households, resulting from male desertion; and, 4) a lack of income diversity and security.

Policy Implications

Our findings provide fresh insights into policy responses to extreme poverty. These insights suggest a policy shift away from a narrow concern with graduation to a wider focus on resilience. Resilience as a poverty reduction outcome requires interventions that support individuals (micro level), target the inter‐generational reproduction of poverty (meso level), and engage with wider power structures that exploit and neglect poor people (macro level). Policy makers need to engage more explicitly with the meso and macro levels in particular, recognizing how the three levels converge to reproduce conditions of extreme poverty.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)894-910
JournalDevelopment Policy Review
Issue number6
Early online date23 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2021


  • extreme poverty
  • Resilience
  • poverty
  • Bangladesh
  • Qualitative reearch
  • life histories


Dive into the research topics of 'Understanding resilience: lessons from lived experiences of extreme poverty in Bangladesh'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this