Qualitative poverty measurements
Qualitative poverty measures can help in the understanding of poverty dynamics and the well-being of a household at more than one point in time. Building upon Robert Chamber’s Participatory Rural Appraisal, participatory poverty assessment (PPA) aims to understand poverty from the perspective of poor people in order to better inform poverty reduction policies (Norton, 2001). The World Bank has carried out many PPAs across the world, gathered together in the Voices of the Poor project.
Participatory research contributed heavily to the understanding that poverty is multidimensional (Norton, 2001). It also aids in illustrating the dynamic dimensions of poverty, people’s vulnerability to shocks, cyclical deprivation and long-term poverty trends. Participatory processes can also illustrate the intra-household dimensions of poverty, especially in relation to gender (Norton, 2001).
Measuring vulnerability to poverty
Vulnerability to poverty is the probability or risk of being in poverty or falling into poverty in the future. Chambers (1989) argues that vulnerability is not the same as poverty. Borrowing and investing may reduce income poverty, but such debt makes households more vulnerable, for instance. Vulnerability entails ‘defencelessness, insecurity, and exposure to risk, shocks and stress’ (Chambers, 1989). It is the product of external risks and internal household conditions and actions. It is also considered to be an important aspect of well-being as it affects people’s behaviour and perceptions (Coudouel et al., 2002). Dercon (in Haughton & Khandker, 2009, p. 244) suggests a framework for analysing vulnerability to poverty through looking at assets, incomes, and well-being/capabilities, and risks related to them. Dutta et al. (2010) suggest measuring vulnerability to poverty by taking into account current assets and income to look at people’s ability to build up coping mechanisms for future income shocks. This captures where current living standard reduces future vulnerability and where it increases it (Dutta et al., 2010).
Issues with poverty measurements
All measures of poverty are imperfect (Haughton & Khandker, 2009). This means all measures of poverty and sources of poverty data need to be approached with a degree of caution, particularly data on fragile and conflict-affected countries, if it is even available. As measures of poverty and inequality are based on survey data they are only really sample statistics and need to take into account the type of sampling and weighting given to the data (Haughton & Khandker, 2009). Additional issues with poverty measurements include the following.
Measuring poverty at the household level neglects the individual poverty of its members. For example, unequal resource allocation within a household can mean that women’s levels of poverty differ from the household average (Medeiros and Costa, and Sen, in Chant, 2010; Coudouel et al., 2002).
Research suggests that urban poverty has been misunderstood and under-estimated as a result of models and measurement methods based on rural poverty (Satterthwaite & Mitlin, 2014). For example, Satterthwaite and Mitlin (2014) find that current poverty lines are not fit for purpose as they define a lot of people living in urban areas as not poor despite their malnourishment, premature deaths, poor housing, and lack adequate water and sanitation. They argue that monetary measures of poverty need to reflect the cost of food and non-food needs in different areas. The Poverty Analysis Discussion Group (2012) point out that differences between prices and costs in urban and rural areas need to be accurately measured (accounting for the potentially high cost of transport, rent, safe sanitation and energy in urban areas). Some items of consumption which are not relevant in rural areas may be important in cities e.g. transport. It is also necessary to take into account the impact of crime and social tensions, the health consequences poor environmental quality and the social and psychological consequences of inequality and inequity and of the low social status associated with informal livelihoods and settlements (Poverty Analysis Discussion Group, 2012).
Disaggregated poverty data
Poverty data that is disaggregated in relation to gender, disability and age, for example, is not regularly produced by all countries, nor systematically compiled at global level (DESA, 2010). It can be difficult to collect in some cases. Household surveys are currently the source of most disaggregated data. More disaggregated poverty data would enable a better understanding of poverty and its impact on different groups of people, including women. However, there may be limits to the disaggregation which surveys allow.
- Chambers, R. (1989). Vulnerability, coping and policy. IDS Bulletin, 20(2), 1-7.
- Chant, S. (Ed.). (2010). The international handbook of gender and poverty: Concepts, research, policy. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.
- Coudouel, A., Hentschel, J. S., & Wodon, Q. T. (2002). Poverty measurement and analysis. In The PRSP Sourcebook. Washington, DC: World Bank.
- Dutta, I., Foster, J., & Mishra, A. (2010). On measuring vulnerability to poverty. Social Choice and Welfare, 37, 743-61.
- Haughton, J., & Khandker, S. R. (2009). Handbook on poverty and inequality. Washington, DC: World Bank.
- Norton, A. (2001). A rough guide to PPAs: An introduction to theory and practice. London: ODI.
- Poverty Analysis Discussion Group. (2012). Understanding poverty and wellbeing – A note with implications for research and policy. London: DFID.
- Satterthwaite, D., & Mitlin, D. (2014). Reducing urban poverty in the global south. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.