Why some families live in poverty and others in prosperity

A family could remain poor or prosper depending on the lifestyle and cultural choices that the head of the household makes over time, a study indicates. PHOTO | NMG

The reasons why some families remain poor while others prosper can now be laid bare, thanks to a new study whose far-reaching results were made public on Thursday.

It all depends on the lifestyle and cultural choices that the head of the household makes over time.

What this means is that it is possible to change the fortunes of a household over time either for better or for worse by tinkering with one of the five variables examined by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.


Generally, households headed by a man or a woman with little or no formal education fare badly economically.

Indeed, they are among the poorest and the gap grows compared to households where the head of the family is more educated.

Not surprisingly, households headed by a person with tertiary education are more prosperous, regardless of whether they are headed by a man or woman.


For those without formal education, the well-being of their households grows worse if they live very close to a town, largely because the cost of food is higher.

The same goes for those with little education.

However, and most importantly, their fortunes can improve slightly if they move to a peri-urban area and can improve further in a rural area.


This is because in rural areas, households can grow some of the ingredients they need to make food, such as maize, sukuma wiki, onions an tomatoes.

However, if the same family gets an additional member, this significantly changes its economic dynamics for the worse.

After all, every additional mouth on the same income means there is less to go around.

“Poverty increases with increase in household size,” says the Basic Report on Well-being in Kenya.

“At the national level, households with one to three members recorded the least poverty headcount of 14.7 per cent compared to 54.1 per cent (more than half) of households with seven or more members.”


The implication of this is self-evident. Managing family sizes has a direct impact on poverty levels.

However, this is not only about family planning.

Even hosting a friend, relative or employee over time can affect the well-being of a household.

According to the report, large households fare poorly whether they are in rural or urban areas. Where they live is immaterial.

“Poor households where the head has no education also experience relatively deeper poverty,” says the study.


The survey also found that poverty rate increases as the age of the head of the household advances.

Only families where the heads of the household are aged between 15 and 19 break this general rule.

In this bracket, the poverty levels reduce as the household head grows older.

“Households headed by older persons (60 and above) recorded a higher poverty rate of 36.3 per cent and also contributed a higher share (22.9 per cent) of the poor,” the study said.


“As one ages, his/her level of productivity decreases, making the individual more susceptible to poverty.”

Most households in Kenya — about two-thirds — are headed by males.

As a rule, many of these generally do better economically than those headed by females.

“Households headed by females are likely to be poorer than those headed by men,” says the survey, laying a direct link between the gender of the head and the well-being of a household.


This is worrying, given that 32.4 per cent of households are headed by females. Out of these, about a third are poor.

The rate is lower for households headed by males. Of these 26 per cent are poor.

Families headed by widows were also found to be worse off, accounting for 11.1 per cent of poor households.

“These households recorded a poverty incidence of 36.6 per cent and contributed a share of 14.8 per cent to overall poverty,” the survey reveals, painting a grim picture of the high cost households have to pay for the death of a male head.


Overall, the survey says, 42.8 per cent of households whose headship is in a polygamous union are poor compared to 27.2 per cent of their counterparts in monogamous unions.

But there is a hidden sting.

“Households headed by persons who have never married exhibit the poverty rates lowest across the analysis,” it adds.


Singles, therefore, easily take the biscuit. But they do not only have themselves to thank.

“Households under the headship of the younger population (20-29 years), who are most likely engaged in gainful employment and/or are single and still supported by parents or relatives registered lowest poverty incidence,” the report says.