DO SLUMS keep people in poverty or help them get out of it? It is an important question: about one-third of the urban population of developing countries (860m people) live in them. But with little data on slums and their inhabitants, it is a hard one to answer. Nonetheless a recent paper from economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) suggests that slums are often traps rather than springboards.
Economists have tended to accentuate the good side of slums. By offering a toehold for rural migrants seeking their fortune in cities, they are thought to foster upward mobility. Edward Glaeser, an economist at Harvard University, argues that the buzz of slums encourages entrepreneurship and hard work. One survey from Rio de Janeiro found that a majority of slum-dwellers interviewed in 1969 and found again in 2001 were no longer living in the favelas. That suggests many slum-dwellers had moved on to bigger and better things. Other research shows that about one-third of households in Nairobi’s slums have established their own business.
Yet the MIT paper, which offers simple statistics about 138,000 slum households from around the world, suggests that slums are often an impediment to advancement. Poor hygiene, and the debilitating illnesses it propagates, is one curse. The majority of slum-dwellers in the MIT sample have no private latrine; in one Mumbai slum, taps are shared by more than 100 people. According to the African Population and Health Research Centre hygiene is regularly worse in slums than in rural areas. In the slums of Tongi and Jessore in Bangladesh, 82% of respondents report that a member of their household has been sick in the past month.
Read more: http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21595939-shanty-towns-may-be-more-trap-economists-thought-down-and-out