Studying chronic poverty using retrospective qualitative data (life histories) in conjunction with longitudinal panel data is now widely recognised to provide deeper and more reliable insights (Davis and Baulch, 2009). This paper uses three rounds of panel data and life histories collected by Young Lives, a longitudinal study of childhood poverty, to identify factors that contribute to households becoming or remaining poor in rural Ethiopia, with related effects on the children within those households. It combines a case-centred and a variable-centred approach (Ragin, 1987), analysing and comparing the experiences of individual households on the basis of qualitative and quantitative techniques and interrogating these findings by looking at attributes of households (variables) across a larger sample. The substantive findings on poverty ‘drivers’ and ‘maintainers’ (Baulch, 2011) support those of previous studies: rainfall, illness, debt, exclusion from the main form of social protection. But by mixing different types of data and analysis, the paper was able to show that combinations of factors rather than single events drive households into poverty, and that household characteristics can play an important factor. The primary contribution of the paper is methodological as it presents a novel method of using life histories to investigate chronic poverty in rural Ethiopia by generating or testing hypotheses/findings on poverty drivers and maintainers.