‘Eradicating global poverty: a noble goal, but how do we measure it?’

Emma Samman of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) has published a working paper summarising a series of posts on ODI’s Development in Progress blog, in which scholars including OPHI’s Sabina Alkire, Martin Ravallion, Stephan Klasen, Lant Pritchett and Amanda Lenhardt debated the best way to measure poverty in the post-2015 development context.

The paper notes that the contributions show some consensus, but also several areas of contention.

‘There are arguments that poverty is relative as well as absolute, and over whether the apt reference point is the society in which a person lives or global too. Some advocate higher international income poverty lines, arguing that they hold meaning in both rich and poor countries. Others claim that purchasing power parity adjustments may not reflect the incomes of the poor well and that internationally coordinated national poverty measurement would offer a better solution. Others still take issue with an exclusively income-based poverty metric, arguing that poverty should also be measured in a multidimensional fashion. And it is reasoned that measures ought to be disaggregated among groups of the poor in the view that not all experience poverty equally.

  • All agree that eradicating absolute poverty should remain at the forefront of a new goal on poverty, but opinions differ as to what constitutes extreme poverty and how we should measure it.
  • Proposals to broaden the definition of poverty include incorporating relative poverty, a poverty line high enough to reflect poverty in rich countries too, and a measure of multidimensional deprivation.
  • Disagreement exists over whether ‘international dollars’ are the best way to measure poverty, with a proposal for efforts toward internationally consistent national poverty measurement.’

You can read the full paper here.

Duncan Green, strategic advisor to Oxfam GB, ran a guest post by Emma Samman on his ‘From Poverty to Power‘ blog on 21 June, in which she discussed the measurement debate. A poll asking readers to vote for the poverty measures they prefer as the basis for a post-2015 agreement showed a Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) 2.0 (now known as the MPI 2015+) well out in front on 26 June, with 57% of the vote. You can vote for the measures you prefer here.