Kristof: Some Poor Families Spend More on Alcohol Than Education

Suffering of people in some of the world’s poorest countries is often fueled by shortsighted private spending decisions as much as it is by low incomes. This is an “ugly secret of poverty, one rarely acknowledged by aid groups or U.N. reports,” Nick Kristof writes on The New York Times.

Kristof writes about his experience in a Congo village where he met a fourth-grader who is about to get kicked out of school because his parents were not able to pay three months worth of tuition. Talking to the boy’s parents, the columnist says he found that the father spends up to USD12 a month on alcohol, while both parents spend a combined total of USD10 a month on cellphone bills.

The child’s education costs some USD2.5 a month, according to Kristof.

“If the poorest families spent as much money educating their children as they do on wine, cigarettes and prostitutes, their children’s prospects would be transformed,” Kristof argues.

The columnist proposes two solutions: giving women more power over the household income and promoting microsavings.

Evidence from past studies has shown that women are more likely than men to spend money on education, Kristof says.

Microsavings, meanwhile, can help transform a consumptions culture in a savings one. These kind of programs help poor people save when banks are not interested in them.

“If we’re going to make more progress, and get kids like the Obamza children in school and under bed nets, we need to look unflinchingly at uncomfortable truths — and then try to redirect the family money now spent on wine and prostitution,” Kristof says.

About the author

  • Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.