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Multi-dimensional Poverty: Conceptual and Measurement Issues. 1. Introduction 2. Issues Related to the Concept of Multi-dimensional Poverty 3. Multi-dimensional Poverty Measures 4. Multi-dimensional Poverty and Vulnerability over Time 5. Further Issues Related to the Measurement of

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Multi-dimensional Poverty:

Conceptual and Measurement Issues

1. Introduction

2. Issues Related to the Concept of

Multi-dimensional Poverty

3. Multi-dimensional Poverty Measures

4. Multi-dimensional Poverty and Vulnerability over Time

5. Further Issues Related to the Measurement of


6. Conclusions


Issues Related to the Concept of Multi-dimensional Poverty

▲The most comprehensive starting point in an attempt

to capture the concept of poverty is Sen’s

“capabilities and functionings” theoretical framework

▲Drawbacks of Income Approach to Poverty Measurement:Presupposes that a market exists for all

attributes and that prices reflect utility

weights of households

Income Approach is Incomplete as it Does not

Incorporate Key g

Dimensions of Deprivation as Longevity, Literacy, Provision of Public Goods and, at the Limit, Freedom and Security


▲Concept of Capability Presumes that Individuals are well-enough Endowed so that they Can Choose a non-Poor Functioning

▲Multi-dimensional Poverty (MDP) can only Measure ex post

Capability not ex ante

▲Key Issue is to Identify Configuration of Relevant Attributes, Including their Minimum Thresholds Constituting Acceptable, Non-Poor Levels of Functioning. This Determination is Possible for Basic Needs but almost Impossible for such Intangible Dimensions as Freedom and Security

▲Conflict between Welfare Consistency and Specificity Criteria Significantly more Pronounced in MDP Analysis than

in Income Approach

▲Poverty Comparisons within MDP Analysis Require Approximation of a Welfare Function, including Specification of: 1. Welfare Weights; 2. Poverty Thresholds for all Attributes; 3. Direct Benefits of each Attribute; and 4. Impact of Interactions among Attributes

on Welfare Function

▲Attributes Can be Substitutes or Complements


Multi-dimensional Poverty Measures

▲Complete Mapping of Combinations of Attributes

into Utility Space Appears Daunting, if not Utopian, Task

▲Therefore, until now, MDP Measures were Limited to

Dealing with no more than Four and most

typically Two Dimensions



●Atkinson-Bourguignon (1982) attempted to determine how different forms of deprivation tend to be jointly associated

●Bourguignon and Chakravarty (2003) analyze implications of different degrees of substitutability between two attributes on the utility space. They build a class of MDP measures which is a multi- dimensional extension of FGT.

Their measure is limited to the case where both attributes are below their poverty thresholds (i.e. the intersection definition of MDP) and is summation of shortfalls appropriately weighted raised to the power α.

Application to evolution of rural poverty in Brazil reveals how sensitive measure is to relative weights and degrees of substitutability selected.


●Duclos, Sahn and Younger (2005) develop a dominance approach to MDP extending concept of poverty line to poverty frontier. The proposed dominance measure is essentially a two-dimensional generalization of the FGT index.

An important feature of the D-S-Y measure is that it is influenced by the covariance between the two elements. Another interesting feature is that separate poverty aversion parameters can be selected for the two dimensions.

They show that it is possible for a set of univariate analysis done independently for each dimension of well-being to conclude that poverty in setting A is lower than poverty in setting B (say rural vs. urban Vietnam), while a multivariate analysis concludes the opposite, and vice-versa. The reason behind the above contention lies in the interaction among the various dimensions.

D-S-Y are aware of limitations of substitutability assumption and discuss implications of having instead assumed complementarity.


Multi-dimensional Poverty and Vulnerability over Time

►Each household, at any point in time, is endowed with a given portfolio of attributes allowing it to function more or less well. Some portfolios are so deficient, i. e. members of the household are so deprived in key dimensions, that they are particularly vulnerable to shocks. In turn even transitory shocks can have permanent and persistent effects on the future level of well-being and result in poverty traps

►Vulnerability can be defined as facing uninsurable risk. Dercon (2005b) provides a useful conceptual framework to link present

risk to future (poverty) outcomes. Households face a multitude of risks, and given their options and characteristics (that, in turn, depend on their portfolios of attributes), they will make risk management decisions


►A state of deprivation in some key attributes such as health, education and income can increase vulnerability and lead shocks to have cumulative and persistent effects over time

►The fact that dimensions of well-being can be substitutes in the short run while being complementary and re-inforcing in the long run has fundamental implications for the measurement of poverty.

►Different combinations of attributes yielding the same poverty level in the short run can have different impacts (influence) on poverty outcomes in the future. There exists a path-dependence between the form poverty takes today and future poverty outcomes.

►The quest for household security can lock poor people into social structures that reduce vulnerability but which also keeps them poor. Based on ethnographies derived from qualitative research Wood shows why many households “stay poor” in an attempt to “stay secure”.


Further Issues Related to the Measurement

of Multi-dimensionalPoverty

►MDP measures discussed so far were quantitative. Other approaches to MDP measurement are the subjective Participatory Poverty Assessments (PPAs) and the “Economics of Happiness.”

►Both approaches might get more accurate estimates of the extent of deprivation people feel with respect to such intangibles potential dimensions of poverty such as freedom, security and social exclusion.

►An interesting feature of those subjective approaches, when they ask whether a person feels poor or unhappy, is that the answers that are given rely implicitly on the utility function of the subject in question. In other words, the individual stating that he does not feel poor uses an implicit set of individual weights and minimum thresholds for the various attributes of well-being and aggregates accordingly to obtain a scalar measure. This resolves the very thorny and essentially arbitrary issue of having to select a set of attributes’ weights in the quantitative multi-dimensional poverty measures and indicators.


►A marriage between the quantitative and qualitative approaches could be fruitful in yielding information on relative weights individuals assign to different dimensions of well-being.

► Perception of poverty is often relative to the living standards of neighbors rather than an absolute concept. Should MDP measures incorporate some distributional information?

►The validity and robustness of poverty comparisons over space and over time based on the uni-dimensional income approach is debatable on a number of grounds. Over an extended period of time, relative prices can change, new products appear on the market, and needs, preferences and norms can evolve. Political and economic regimes can undergo radical changes. For all these reasons it may be reasonable, over an extended time horizon to update and re-compute the basic needs basket, and by extension in the multi-dimensional poverty framework, the bundle of non-monetary attributes.



One conclusion is that MDP measures have made considerable progress in clarifying the concept of functioning and in identifying many of the theoretical issues. Yet there are too many unresolved questions left over, such as:

1.the determination of the relative weights;

2. the evolution of the poverty surface over time; and,

3. the measurement of the impact of the various interactions among attributes on well-being to use MDP measures in an operational sense.