• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Tuesday 27th March, 2012

Measuring the many dimensions of poverty

Poverty is more than a lack of money. Poverty is multi-dimensional: it encompasses health, housing, education, and social exclusion as well as simple incomes and expenditures.Over the last 30 years, this has been the message of some of the world’s most visionary social scientists, such as economist Amartya Sen and sociologist Peter Townsend. And it has been taken up by governments, who created measures of multiple dimensions of deprivation. These multi-dimensional measures represented a significant step forward. The EU, for example, now publishes a range of social exclusion indicators, such as the percentage of people living in overcrowded housing. More recently, researchers have taken the next step toward measuring multi-dimensional poverty with measures of “cumulative deprivation” – that is, the number of deprivations that an individual experiences at one time. These measures are based on the idea that a person living in overcrowded housing who is also unable to access health care is worse off than someone experiencing only one of these conditions. Cumulative deprivation indicators aim to assess the breadth of a poverty experience – the degree to which individuals are simultaneously affected across multiple dimensions. And, as governments are now stepping up to the new challenge of choosing and using these more sophisticated measures, the time is right to evaluate what type of deprivation indicators provide the best composite measure of well-being, argue policy researchers Geranda Notten, of the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, and Keetie Roelen, of the Institute of Development Studies in the UK. Using routinely collected data from the European Statistics on Income and Living Conditions as a test case, Notten and Roelen explore the best method for estimating the breadth of child poverty.New measures for cumulative deprivation: how to choose?The authors start by setting out three simple criteria any method for combining different areas of deprivation should fulfill. A measure of poverty breadth should be sensitive to changes in cumulative deprivation – that is, it should be able to count the change from an individual living in crowded conditions (experiencing only one dimension of deprivation) to that same person living in crowded accommodation and also unable to buy meat every other day (experiencing two dimensions of deprivation). But the measure should not be so sensitive that changes in methods of assessment result in large shifts in its score. They also note that the measure should be easy for a broad audience to interpret. Based on these criteria, the authors tested two types of cumulative deprivation indicators. The first is the Cumulative Deprivation Headcount (CDH), which measures the number of multiply deprived individuals as a proportion of the population. The second is the Cumulative Deprivation Index (CDI), which is an adjusted headcount that counts the number of deprivations experienced by individuals.And the two indicators do offer different insights. Both indicators were applied to EU poverty data from Germany, France, the Netherlands, and the UK, and counted a portfolio of 13 deprivations including poor housing conditions, overcrowded housing, polluted or crime-affected neighborhoods, poor access to health care or schooling, payment arrears on debt, inability to buy meat or another protein every other day, and inability to make ends meet. The CDH shows that 69% of UK children experience at least one deprivation, while 42% experience two or more deprivations. The CDI, on the other hand, gives a score that shows that the average child experiences slightly less than two deprivations. By either measure, deprivation levels are higher in the UK than in France, Germany, and the Netherlands. In these cases, “whereas the CDH emphasizes that the prevalence of deprivation is high, the CDI shows that the average breadth of deprivations is modest,” Notten and Roelen explain. In the end, the authors recommend the CDI adjusted headcount as the best single measure of cumulative deprivation, supplemented by a CDH headcount with a higher threshold to count the percentage of children experiencing a high number of unfavorable conditions. Reference:Notten, G. & Roelen, K. (2011). A New Tool for Monitoring (Child) Poverty: Measures of Cumulative Deprivation. Child Indicators Research. DOI 10.1007/s12187-011-9130-6.

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