OPHI research shows mixed results in multidimensional poverty reduction across India between 1999 and 2006

Multidimensional poverty reduction in India has not been equal for all regions, castes or religious groups, according to a paper by OPHI researchers published in the World Development journal.

Using data from the Indian National Family Health Survey in 1998-99 and 2005-06, the paper presents a multidimensional index of poverty (MPI) for India, which is strictly comparable across time.  The MPI includes ten different indicators of poverty – covering health, education and living standards – to reflect the multiple disadvantages that poor people can experience.

The index revealed that national multidimensional poverty fell overall in India between 1999 and 2006 by 1.2 percentage points per year, although the researchers note that the rate of reduction was much slower than in neighbouring countries such as Nepal and Bangladesh.

However, the reduction in multidimensional poverty was faster than the annual decrease in the percentage of the population living below India’s national income poverty line, which fell from 45.3 per cent in 1993 to 37.2 per cent in 2005.

The researchers also looked at the level of poverty reduction among different subgroups of the population. They found that the decrease was greatest among groups that already had lower levels of multidimensional poverty in 1999. This pattern contrasts with the change in income poverty across states between 1993-94 and 2004-05, where the poorest states reduced poverty at a faster rate.

Among castes and tribes, the reduction in multidimensional poverty was slowest for the poorest group, Scheduled Tribes. Similarly, across religious groups, Muslims, the poorest subgroup in 1999, saw the least reduction in the next seven years.

The fall in multidimensional poverty levels was also slower among those living in urban areas than rural areas. In 1999, 24.4 per cent of the urban population lived in multidimensional poverty, compared to 20.5 per cent in 2006. Among the rural population, the percentage of those living in multidimensional poverty fell from 68.6 per cent in 1999 to 60.8 per cent in 2006.

The paper additionally explores changes in the proportion of people who are intensely poor – defined as being deprived in more than half of the MPI’s ten indicators – and deeply poor – those who experience the severest levels of deprivation in a third or more of the indicators. The findings showed that, in 1999, 19.3 per cent of the Indian population were both deeply and intensely poor. Although this figure decreased by 2006, nationally 13.9 per cent of the population – over 140 million people – were still simultaneously intensely and deeply poor.

Read the full paper

Multidimensional Poverty Reduction in India between 1999 and 2006: Where and How?’, by Sabina Alkire and Suman Seth, was published online in the World Development journal in March 2015.

An earlier version of the paper was published in the OPHI working paper series in March 2013.