Launch of Mexico’s New Poverty Measure

A new multidimensional poverty measure co-developed by OPHI researchers was adopted by the Mexican government last month. It is the first national model to reflect the full breadth of poverty at the household level, including social factors such as health, housing, education and access to food, as well as income. OPHI Director Sabina Alkire and OPHI Research Associate James Foster created the technique, which Mexico has drawn on and adapted to their own context.

Traditionally, measures of poverty and well-being have relied on monetary indicators, such as income or Gross Domestic Product (GDP). But such narrow metrics only capture part of the picture. “Poverty and wellbeing are multidimensional concepts that involve all aspects of a person’s experience of life,” said Sabina Alkire. “To combat poverty effectively, we need to understand its causes. Our measure not only identifies who is poor and how poor they are, it tells us what the major drivers of poverty are among different groups of people. For example, access to drinking water may rank as the major contributor to poverty in rural areas of a country, whereas poverty in urban areas may be driven by education. This information is highly valuable for policy makers in deciding where to focus resources.”

Mexico’s new measure was launched on Thursday 10 December 2009 in Mexico City by Mexico’s National Council for the Evaluation of Social Policy (CONEVAL). “Mexico is proud to be the first country in the world to measure poverty, not narrowly on economic grounds alone, but to take full account of crucial social components of poverty such as quality of housing and access to healthcare and food, which are all too often neglected by established poverty measures,” said Dr Gonzalo Hernández Licona, Executive Secretary of CONEVAL.

The Mexican government is one of several high-profile institutions to recognise the need for wider measures to provide more relevant information for policy makers. Last September French president Nicolas Sarkozy commissioned a report by an expert panel, including Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen, to look at how governments can take full account of citizen’s wellbeing, not just national economic growth. Bhutan employed Alkire and Foster’s multidimensional method to create the country’s aptly named ‘Gross National Happiness’ Index. The index incorporates nine dimensions, as diverse as health, culture, time use and environmental diversity, and demonstrates the versatility of Alkire and Foster’s measure: because it allows you to choose which dimensions and indicators are used it can be adapted to a huge variety of situations.

-CONEVAL’s press release (English , Spanish)
Glossary of terms in English
OPHI given by Sabina Alkire and James Foster at the launch in Mexico City
-presentation given by CONEVAL Executive Secretary, Dr Gonzalo Hernández Licona in Spanish or English

News Coverage of Mexico’s New Poverty Measure
La Jornada – Anuncia el Coneval un nuevo método multidimensional para medir pobreza – 09 Diciembre
La Journada – Viven en pobreza 43% de adultos mayores, informa el Coneval – 21 Dic
El Informador – Viven en pobreza extrema 11.2 millones de mexicanos: Coneval – 21 Dic
El Universal – Pobres, 4 de cada 10 en México – 11 de Dic
La Crónica de Hoy – La pobreza en el país aumentó 1% el primer semestre: Sedesol – 11 Dic
La Jornada -Niños, los que padecen más carencias – 11 Dic
El Economista – Rumbo a la pobreza, 40 millones de mexicanos – 11 Dic
Milenio – 33.2 millones de mexicanos enfrentan situaciones de pobreza – 10 Dic
EFE – Pobreza crece en México en 1,5 millones de personas en primer semestre de año– 10 Dic

About OPHI (Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative)
OPHI is a research centre within the Department of International Development at the University of Oxford. OPHI is led by Sabina Alkire, and works to develop and apply new ways to measure and analyse poverty, human development and welfare, drawing on the work of Nobel Laureate economist Amartya Sen. James Foster is a Research Associate at OPHI and a Professor of Economics and International Affairs at George Washington University. OPHI gratefully acknowledges support for its research and activities from the Government of Canada through the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) and private benefactors.

About CONEVAL (National Council for the Evaluation of Social Policy)
The General Law of Social Development establishes the creation of CONEVAL as a decentralized agency from the Federal Government with technical and administrative autonomy. On one hand, it regulates and coordinates the evaluation of social development policies and programs; on the other, it establishes the guidelines and criteria for the definition, identification and measurement of poverty in Mexico. To carry out these tasks, CONEVAL is headed by an executive secretary and six academic counsellors, elected by the National Commission of Social Development from the Deputies Chamber through a national call.

Measures of poverty have traditionally relied on income or consumption as the indicator of a person or nation’s well-being. However, measures based on income alone miss out important social dimensions of poverty and well-being, such as education and health. For example, a measure based on income alone would not differentiate between a person with access to free State-provided healthcare and education and a person on the same income who does not have access to these services, though clearly the person without these services would be worse-off overall.

More recently, there has been widespread agreement that well-being is a multidimensional concept that encompasses all aspects of human life. A multidimensional approach considers several different factors or ‘dimensions’ (e.g. education, health, nutrition, housing, as well as income) that contribute towards a person or nation’s welfare. The choice of dimensions (e.g. education), indicators (e.g. how many years of education a person has) and cutoffs (e.g. a person with fewer than five years of education is considered deprived) depends on the society and situation.