Three Insights Behavioral Scientists Use to Understand Poverty and Help Tackle It For Good

ideas42 marks U.N. Poverty Eradication Day

New York, October 15, 2015 –ideas42 honored the mission of the U.N.’s International Day for the Eradication of Poverty [Saturday] by highlighting three key insights about breaking the cycle of American poverty.

Using research from its Poverty Interrupted report, the nonprofit behavioral design firm outlined how new thinking can make a contribution to improving lives for those most in need, not only in the United States but around the world—using three key insights.

  1. Poverty is a tax – imposing a cost in time, money and cognition.

It’s important to recognize that families bear the costs of poverty in a variety of ways. Too many well-meaning programs increase these costs unintentionally by adding hassles and creating complexity. To support families in a behaviorally-informed way means identifying the drivers of these costs and finding ways to reduce or eliminate them.

  1. Poverty is unforgiving- it leaves no room for error or risk.

For people living in poverty, unexpected events and the consequences of mistakes are more severe. Many of the negative effects of poverty stem from this reality, like the havoc that often follows unanticipated “shocks” or emergencies. Finding ways to help people in poverty build an adequate cushion of time, money, attention and other critical resources is a prerequisite for escaping poverty.

  1. Society negatively shapes understanding of people in poverty and what’s possible for their future. 

Many systems and programs reinforce or create stigmas that disempower people rather than affirm their autonomy and dignity. Behaviorally-informed systems and services are crafted to help people do more of what they want to do and less of what they don’t – and to ensure that they believe they have the ability to effect change in their own lives.

Said ideas42 Vice President Anthony Barrows: “Behavioral design should be a commonplace human services tool. Many of the recommendations presented in our Poverty Interrupted report can be realized with small, low-cost tweaks to existing programs. These important steps could look like a non-profit simplifying its application form, a housing authority sending text message reminders, or a social services agency that conceives of the families it serves as members rather than cases.”

With millions of people worldwide living in poverty, the U.N. has set the ambitious goal of eradicating poverty and hunger worldwide by the year 2030. The relative poverty rate in the U.S. is 17.4 percent, significantly higher than the 11.3 percent average among the developed member countries of the OECD.

To join a webinar about ideas42’s application of concepts from the Poverty Interrupted report hosted by Ascend at the Aspen Institute on October 20th, register here.

About ideas42

We’re a leader in our field with unique expertise and experience at the forefront of behavioral science. We use this to innovate, drive social change and improve millions of lives. We create fresh solutions to tough issues based on behavioral insights that can be scaled up for the greatest impact. Ideas42 also educates leaders and help institutions improve existing programs and policies.

Our work spans more than 20 countries and encompasses economic mobility, health, education, consumer finance, criminal justice, energy efficiency and international development. As a global, nonprofit organization, our partners include governments, foundations, companies and many other institutions.

At its core, Behavioral Science helps us understand human behavior and why people make the decisions they do. It teaches us that context matters, that asking the right questions is critical and that simple solutions are often available, but frequently overlooked or dismissed. We work to identify the subtle but important contextual details that can have a disproportionate impact on outcomes.

For further Press Information or for media availability/interviews with Anthony Barrows, contact:

Andy Plews

Mitra Salasel