Global MPI Frequently Asked Questions


Income vs MPI

Policy & international adoption



What is the MPI?

The Global Multidimensional Poverty Index or MPI is an internationally comparable measure of acute poverty for over 100 developing countries. It was developed by OPHI in collaboration with UNDP’s Human Development Report Office and first published in 2010 in UNDP’s Human Development Report.

In particular, the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) captures the multiple deprivations that each poor person faces at the same time with respect to education, health and living standards. The MPI reflects both the incidence of multidimensional poverty (the proportion of people in a population who are multidimensionally poor), and its intensity (the average percentage of deprivations each poor person experiences at the same time). It can be used to create a comprehensive picture of people living in poverty, and permits comparisons across countries and regions and the world, and within countries by ethnic group, urban/rural location, as well as other key household and community characteristics. The Global MPI implemented on measure of the Alkire and Foster methodology to present the first global measure of its kind. It offers a valuable complement to traditional income-based poverty measures such as $1.90/day. OPHI’s website carries the full set of MPI statistics, including subnational data, indicator detail, maps, standard errors, graphics, etc.

Why is this better than the Human Poverty Index (HPI) previously used in the Human Development Report?

The MPI replaced the HPI, which appeared in the HDR from 1997-2009. Pioneering in its day, the HPI used country averages to reflect aggregate deprivations in health, education, and standards of living. It could not identify which specific individuals, households or larger groups of people were poor. The Global MPI addresses this shortcoming by identifying each person as poor-or non-poor based on how many deprivations they face, then aggregates this information into an overall set of intuitive statistics such as the percentage of people who are MPI poor. The MPI can be broken down by indicator to show how the composition of multidimensional poverty differs across regions, ethnic groups and so on—with useful implications for policy.

What does the MPI measure?

The MPI identifies overlapping deprivations at the household level across the same three dimensions as the Human Development Index (living standards, health, and education). It shows the incidence of poor people in a population and the intensity of deprivations with which poor households contend. For details see Alkire and Santos 2010, 2014. Read more about the MPI methodology here.

What makes a household “multidimensionally” poor?

One deprivation alone may not represent poverty. The MPI requires a household to be deprived in multiple indicators at the same time. A person is multidimensionally poor if he or she is deprived in at least one third of the weighted indicators (see below for definitions of ‘severe’ poverty and ‘vulnerable’ to poverty).

Why is income not included?

We could not include income due to data constraints. Income poverty data come from different surveys, and these surveys often do not have information on health and nutrition. For most countries we are not able to identify whether the same people are income poor and also deprived in all the MPI indicators. Therefore, we could not include income.

How was the MPI created?

The MPI was created by Alkire and Santos and other researchers at OPHI, who applied a new technique developed by Sabina Alkire and James Foster to over 100 developing countries. Read more about the Alkire Foster method for multidimensional measurement.

What data are used in the MPI?

The MPI relies on two main datasets that are publicly available and comparable for most developing countries: the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), and the Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey (MICS). Certain countries use special datasets. The MPI data tables list in full the surveys used for each country.

How often is the MPI updated?

The global MPI was first released in 2010, for 104 developing countries, and has been updated yearly with the latest data available. Starting from winter 2014/2015, updates are now made twice a year, in summer and winter. The June 2016 Global MPI  covers 102 developing countries, using data ranging from 2005 to 2015.

The MPI is described as a measure of acute poverty. How does this differ from extreme poverty?

The MPI reflects the severe deprivations that people face at the same time. Because it was designed to compare acute poverty across developing nations, it is most relevant to less developed countries. We have described the MPI as a measure of ‘acute’ poverty to avoid confusion with the World Bank’s measure of ‘extreme’ poverty that captures those living on less than $1.90 a day.

How do I interpret the various values presented with the Global MPI results?

The MPI constitutes a family or set of poverty measures. These measures can be unpacked to show the composition of poverty both across countries, regions and the world and within countries by ethnic group, urban/rural location, as well as other key household and community characteristics. This is why OPHI describes the MPI as a high resolution lens on poverty: it can be used as an analytical tool to identify the most prevailing deprivations. The MPI measures are explained below:

  • Incidence of poverty: the proportion of the population who are poor according to the MPI (those who are deprived in at least one third of the weighted indicators).
  • Average intensity of poverty: the average share of deprivations people experience at the same time.
  • MPI value: The MPI value, which ranges from zero to one, is calculated by multiplying the incidence of poverty by the average intensity of poverty. It shows the proportion of deprivations that a countries’ poor people experience out of the total possible deprivations that would be experienced if every person in the society were poor and deprived in every indicator. It has many desirable properties.

What do your figures for ‘population vulnerable to poverty’ and ‘population in severe poverty’ mean?

Since 2011, two additional categories of multidimensional poverty have been reported in the HDR Tables. These are called the ‘population vulnerable to poverty’ and the ‘population in severe poverty’. The population vulnerable to poverty is defined as the percentage of the population at risk of suffering multiple deprivations — that is, those people with a deprivation score of 20 –33 percent. The population in severe poverty, meanwhile, measures the percentage of the population in severe multidimensional poverty — that is those with a deprivation score of 50 percent or more.

How does the MPI respond to changes over time?

We have estimated changes to the MPI over time for 50 countries in 2016 where suitable data was available. For details see the MPI data tables. An OPHI Working paper on the topic will be published soon. Please see Alkire, Roche and Vaz 2015 for a previous version of the MPI changes over time analysis.

Where can I find out more about how to apply the MPI approach?

Background materials that provide the technical guidance needed to apply and adapt the MPI approach, including video guides, are available from OPHI’s Online Training Portal. See also ‘How to Apply the Alkire Foster Method‘ – 12 Steps to a Multidimensional Poverty Measure. Our website also advertises periodic short courses on multidimensional poverty – see OPHI Short Courses.

Income vs MPI

Why are there such wide discrepancies between MPI poverty estimates and $1.90/day poverty estimates in so many countries?

The MPI complements income poverty measures. It measures various deprivations directly. In practice, although there is a clear overall relationship between MPI and $1.90/day poverty, the estimates do differ for many countries. This is a topic for further research, but some possibilities can include public services, as well as different abilities to convert income into outcomes such as good nutrition. For more information, see materials from the workshop ‘Dynamic Comparison between Multidimensional Poverty and Monetary Poverty‘.

Why is the MPI headcount (much) higher than national poverty estimates in some countries?

The MPI, like the $1.90/day line, is a globally comparable measure of poverty. It measures acute multidimensional poverty, and only includes indicators that are available for many countries. National poverty measures are typically monetary measures, and thus capture something different. The fact that there are differences does not mean that the national poverty number, or the MPI headcount is wrong – these simply measure different conceptions of poverty. At the same time, just as national poverty measures, in contrast, are designed to reflect the national situation more accurately and often differ in very useful ways from the $1.90 measure, some countries may wish to build a national multidimensional poverty index that is tailored to their context, to complement the global MPI (see ‘National policy‘ for details of countries who are doing this).

Is the MPI intended to replace the standard $1.90 a day measure of poverty used for the MDGs and other international purposes?

No. The MPI is intended to complement monetary measures of poverty, including $1.90 a day estimates. The relationship between these measures, as well as their policy implications and methodological improvement, are priorities for further research.

Policies & international adoption

What are the policy implications?

The MPI methodology shows aspects in which the poor are deprived and helps to reveal the interconnections among those deprivations. This enables policymakers to target resources and design policies more effectively. This is especially useful where the MPI reveals areas or groups characterized by severe deprivation. Examples where this has been done in practice already include Mexico’s poverty targeting programme and Colombia’s poverty reduction strategy, tied to their nationally adapted MPIs.

How does the MPI relate to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

The original MPI indicators were drawn from the former Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as far as the available internationally comparable data allowed. The ten indicators of the MPI are identical, or relate, to MDG indicators: nutrition (MDG 1), child mortality (MDG 4), access to drinking water (MDG 7), access to sanitation facility (MDG 7) and use of an improved source of cooking fuel (MDG 9). The overall MPI can be broken down into its constituent parts, revealing the overlapping needs of families and communities across a range of indicators which so often have been presented in isolation. This helps policymakers to see where challenges lie and what needs to be addressed. OPHI has suggested that a global MPI 2015+ should be considered for the SDGs; you can read the briefing here. Many countries are now using MPIs to advance the SDGs. This includes reporting the Global MPI, or their national MPI, as indicator 1.2.2. It also means using the MPI as both a policy and governance tool to advance the SDGs and reduce poverty in all its dimensions. In time, the global MPI is likely to be adjusted to reflect the SDG indicators.

How is the MPI approach useful at the country level?

The multidimensional poverty approach is often adapted. Countries select the indicators and weights that make sense in their context to create tailored national poverty measures. National MPIs can be useful as a guide to helping governments tailor a poverty measure that reflects local priorities and data sources. In 2009, Mexico became the first country to adopt a multidimensional poverty measure reflecting multiple deprivations on the household level. In 2011, Colombia introduced the first poverty reduction plan to use an adaptation of OPHI’s measure. Colombia’s binding “multidimensional” poverty-reduction targets are tied to its official national Multidimensional Poverty Index Colombia (MPI-Colombia) which assesses broader social and health-related aspects of poverty: education, employment, the condition of children and young people, health, access to public services and housing conditions. The governments of Bhutan, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, and Pakistan have also released official multidimensional poverty measures. The global MPI was devised as an analytical tool to compare acute poverty across nations – which is something very useful that national MPIs cannot do. However national MPIs made by national statistics offices, and matching national plans and priorities, can be useful policy tools.

Can the indicators be adapted at the country level?

Yes. The global MPI indicators were data constrained. National MPIs should use the indicators and weights that make sense. The multidimensional poverty approach to assessing deprivations at the household level can be tailored using country-specific data and indicators to provide a richer picture of poverty at the country level.

Can the MPI be adopted for national poverty eradication programs?

Yes. The MPI methodology can and should be modified to generate national multidimensional poverty measures that reflect local cultural, economic, political, climatic and other factors. The MPI will immediately reflect changes in any of its indicators such as school attendance so can be used to monitor progress. Colombia is a powerful example of how the MPI can be used to coordinate national poverty eradication programmes. Costa Rica shows how it is used for budgeting; Bhutan for targeting and so on.

How does the MPI respond to the effects of shocks?

The effects of shocks are difficult to capture in any poverty measure. Because the standard survey data used to estimate the global measure are collected only every three years, the ability to detect changes is limited by the available data. The MPI will reflect the impacts of shocks as far as these cause children to leave primary education or to become malnourished, for example. If more frequent data are available at the country or local level, this can be used to seek to capture the effects of larger scale economic and other shocks.

The MPI only covers 102 developing countries. Will an MPI be created for developed nations?

This is still under investigation: the constraint is no the methodology – which can be easily extended to reflect different faces of poverty – but rather the data. There are no publically available comparable data across the high income countries. The list of all 102 countries that MPI estimates for and country-specific summaries are available on the MPI country briefing page and through the MPI data tables page.


What are the main limitations of the MPI?

The MPI has some drawbacks, due mainly to data constraints. First, the indicators include both outputs (such as years of schooling) and inputs (such as cooking fuel) as well as one stock indicator (child mortality, which could reflect a death that was five years ago), because flow data are not available for all dimensions. Second, the health data are relatively weak and overlook some groups’ deprivations especially for nutrition, though the patterns that emerge are plausible and familiar. Third, in some cases careful judgments are needed to address missing data. But to be considered multidimensionally poor, households must be deprived in at least six standard of living indicators or in three standard of living indicators and one health or education indicator. This requirement makes the MPI less sensitive to minor inaccuracies. Fourth, as is well known, intra-household inequalities may be severe, but these could not be reflected. Fifth, while the MPI goes well beyond a headcount to include the intensity of poverty experienced, it does not measure inequality among the poor. Rather, OPHI report a separate statistic showing individual and group-based inequalities. Finally, the estimates presented here are based on publicly available data and cover various years between 2005 and 2015, which limits direct cross-country comparability.

Why is empowerment not included?

We could not include empowerment due to data constraints. The DHS surveys collect data on womens’ empowerment for some countries, but not every DHS survey includes empowerment, and the other surveys do not have these data. Data on men’s empowerment or political freedom are missing.

Why are summer 2016 MPI estimates only available for 102 countries?

The data table on OPHI’s website has all MPIs ever published which are available for over 118 countries; each year however we limit publication to countries whose data were fielded within a given time frame, and 102 countries meet these criteria in 2016.

Why does national data for the MPI date from so many different years? Isn’t it unfair to compare countries if the statistics in one case are five years older than in another?

The 2016 MPI relies on the most recent and reliable data available since 2005. As in the case of all poverty measures including income and social statistics, surveys are taken in different years, and some countries do not have recent data. In order to facilitate clear analysis, the year of the survey is reported in the MPI tables. The difference in dates limits direct cross country comparisons, as circumstances may have improved, or deteriorated, in the intervening years. Naturally, this is a stimulus for country governments to collect up-to-date surveys that reflect recent progress. The SDGs’ focus on data should, we hope, give rise to more frequent data for MPI estimations.