You're better off in a slum than in the country

Slums may be squalid, but they're full of people trying to grab the next rung. Conditions in the countryside? Much worse.

Slums -- those impoverished, overcrowded and often filthy urban districts -- may be bad news for your upward mobility, but you're almost certainly better off than living in the country.

That's according to Charles Kenny, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and author of Getting Better, who writes in the September issue of Foreign Policy that urbanization is economic progress.

The reason so many people endure the slums? Because countryside conditions are worse.

He writes:

Start with the simple reason that most people leave the countryside: money. Moving to cities makes economic sense -- rich countries are urbanized countries, and rich people are predominantly town and city dwellers. Just 600 cities worldwide account for 60 percent of global economic output, according to the McKinsey Global Institute. Slum dwellers may be at the bottom of the urban heap, but most are better off than their rural counterparts. Although about half the world's population is urban, only a quarter of those living on less than a dollar a day live in urban areas. In Brazil, for example, where the word "poor" conjures images of both Rio's vertiginous favelas and indigenous Amazonian tribes living in rural privation, only 5 percent of the urban population is classified as extremely poor, compared with 25 percent of those living in rural areas.

If you're reading this while sitting in a developed country, this dynamic may be harder to understand -- the "country house" certainly has wealthy overtones; a return to one's roots, albeit with a thoroughly padded bank account.

Though slums have improved markedly since the Victorian era, they're still scorned by the public, which frequently calls for them to be cleared. ("Not in my backyard," on a much bigger scale.) Kenny says they shouldn't be. Instead, slums should be supported with services. Because, scrutinizing the data, these people aren't undesirable at all -- they're trying to make money just like the wealthier folks working in the downtown business district.

In Praise of Slums [Foreign Policy, via Philadelphia Inquirer]

Photo: ND Strupler/Flickr

Related on SmartPlanet:

This post was originally published on

Show Comments