The Opposite of Poverty is Not Wealth

Poverty is defined by what isn’t there. Besides the primarily economic definition of poverty — living on less than $2.15 a day — the World Bank defines poverty as hunger, lack of shelter, being sick and not being able to see a doctor. It's not having access to education or knowing how to read and write. It's not having a job, fearing for the future, and living one day at a time. But poverty isn't just these specific things.

Poverty includes lack of representation and freedom, systemic inequality and marginalization, and powerlessness.

In this context, the opposite of poverty is simply enough. Not enough, as in the bare minimum of something, but enough nutrition, education, opportunity, etc. to render the inherent disadvantages of poverty harmless.

Imagine that a bicycle wheel represents the concept of poverty. In this "poverty wheel," the hub of the wheel is a life in which survival is a daily accomplishment, where surviving from one day to the next is often in question.

An orange bicycle

The hub of this bicycle wheel represents absolute poverty, and it is the center point of every life lived in poverty. The oppression and disadvantage of poverty is part of every interaction, thought, experience and breath of a poor person's life and defines the impoverished life as a life without...without resources, without choices, without a voice, and without hope.

In this analogy, the spokes of the bicycle wheel represent the six types of poverty, which in turn, relate to our basic human needs.

Properly tightening or loosening the spokes of a bicycle wheel (i.e. truing the wheel) helps the wheel maintain its round shape and helps the wheel roll straight and true, not veering to the left or right on its own. And addressing the many areas and ways poverty affects a person (e.g., economically, spiritually, physically, and socially) is like truing a bicycle wheel. It allows a person to move from a life in poverty to a life with adequate opportunity to succeed and thrive.

Thus, the rim of the bicycle wheel represents enough, which is not the bare minimum but is a life fulfilled.

Through his work with the poor and the incarcerated, social justice activist Bryan Stevenson concluded that the opposite of poverty isn't wealth but instead is justice.

Growing up as a missionary kid amidst extreme poverty in rural West Africa, Dr. Wess Stafford, President Emeritus of Compassion International, also recognized that the opposite of poverty is not wealth. But his personal experience led him to conclude that the opposite of poverty lies along a spectrum of adequacy, of have and have not.

For Dr. Stafford and for us, the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is enough.

We've Had Enough of Poverty

Our mission, to release children from poverty in Jesus' name, brings children living in poverty from the hub of the "poverty wheel" to the rim, from a life of absolute poverty to a life of enough. But what enough looks like depends on the type of poverty being talked about and its causes.

When we talk about "types of poverty," we're talking about:

  • educational poverty
  • social poverty
  • health poverty
  • environmental poverty
  • spiritual poverty
  • economic poverty
Educational Poverty

For hundreds of millions of people around the world, education is a luxury they cannot afford. But think about the statement "education is a luxury." And imagine what it means for the destitute and impoverished. Lack of education creates a lack of options, so the opposite of educational poverty is opportunity for new learning, practical training, and opportunities for growth and advancement.

Social Poverty

In many parts of the world, there are people groups who are simply "undervalued." Women have few or no rights, children have no voice, no platform, and few, if any rights. So the opposite of social poverty is a world where everyone is valued, where there is community, where governments recognize the value of every citizen, and where justice abounds.

Health Poverty

Health poverty may sound strange, but there are many people around the world who don’t know the importance of brushing their teeth, washing their hands, or making sure the water they drink is clean. Physical and emotional health is the basis for our ability to work, play and develop sound relationships. It's the foundation for a fulfilling life, so the opposite of health poverty is the opportunity to get basic medical/health needs taken care of — to survive in order to thrive.

Environmental Poverty

Our physical surroundings — climate, water supply, housing and land — affect our well-being, and the circumstances of absolute poverty include extreme environmental risk. From insect and water-borne illnesses to extreme weather conditions, such as drought and flooding, the spirits, hope and health of the poor are depressed by the environment they live in. As a result, the opposite of environmental poverty is safe shelter, access to clean air and clean water, proper sanitation facilities, and protection from preventable diseases spread by environmental factors (e.g, mosquitoes).

Spiritual Poverty

Without an understanding of God's love, it is difficult to resist the despair and hopelessness of poverty. When people believe they are worthless, they lose hope, and without hope, it’s difficult to dream of changed circumstances or a better life. The emotional and spiritual messages of worthlessness and hopelessness poverty delivers disappear when people realize God loves and values them. So the opposite of spiritual poverty is the freedom found in God's love, acceptance, and delight.

Economic Poverty

As we've already said, the opposite of economic poverty isn't wealth, opulence, or luxury. When speaking of economic poverty, the opposite of poverty is the absence of child labor, child trafficking, and modern slavery. It's vocational training, job-skills development, income-generation training and opportunities. It's the ability to financially provide for one's family.

The Gift of Enough

Children living in poverty around the world are longing for hope, justice, happiness, and opportunity. They're longing for enough food, enough time, and enough of a chance to put poverty finally and completely behind them when they reach adulthood.

When you sponsor a child you provide that life-changing "enough." Your sponsorship addresses all aspects of poverty in a poor child's life by providing medical care, nourishing food, access to clean water, education opportunities, support from caring adults, and more.

You can have a positive impact on the life of child fighting to survive by sponsoring a child and supporting our holistic model for child development.

Give With Confidence

With Compassion, your donation is used wisely to help children around the world.

Lock IconWe use industry-standard communication protocols to ensure your personal information is encrypted and transmitted without risk.

Trusted Charity Since 1952

Have Questions About Compassion and How We Work?

Donating to a charity is an important decision. So when you’re passionate about a cause and want to make a difference, we encourage you to do your research. Compassion is 100% committed to financial integrity, stewardship and using each dollar wisely. If you have any questions about Compassion or exactly how your donation will be used, please don’t hesitate to contact us.


Please call us at 800-336-7676, Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. MT, to speak with a Compassion representative.