Professor James Foster

Research Associate


James is a Research Associate at OPHI, alongside being a Professor of Economics and International Affairs at The Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University. 

He held positions at the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University and the Department of Economics at Vanderbilt before joining the Elliott School. He has been a Visiting Professor at the London School of Economics, Cornell, Essex, Oxford, Harvard, and the University of the Americas in Puebla, Mexico. He received the Unilever Fellowship (UK) and the Robert Wood Johnson Investigator Award in Health Policy.

James’s research focuses on welfare economics — using economic tools to evaluate the wellbeing of people. His joint 1984 Econometrica paper is one of the most cited papers on poverty: it introduced the FGT Index, which was the basis for targeting the Progresa/Oportunidades program in Mexico. Other work includes a book project on economic inequality with Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen; a paper on poverty and growth in the International Economic Review with Miguel Szekely, Undersecretary of Education in Mexico; a paper measuring multidimensional poverty with Sabina Alkire, Director of OPHI; and research on inequality in human development in Latin America with Luis Felipe Lopez Calva, Chief Economist at UNDP in Latin America and the Caribbean. 

He holds a Doctorate Honoris Causa, from Universidad Autonoma del Estado de Hidalgo (Mexico).

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  • Education

    PhD in Economics, Cornell University (Selma Fine Goldsmith Award for his dissertation)

    BA Economics and Mathematics, New College, Florida 

  • Research interests

    Welfare economics

  • Selected publications

    Foster J. E., M. McGillivray and S. Seth (2009). ‘Rank Robustness of Composite Indices’, OPHI Working Paper 26, University of Oxford, Oxford.

    Foster J. E., (2013). ‘Measuring Chronic Poverty’, OPHI Working Paper 52, University of Oxford.

    Foster J. E and Alkire, S., (2011). ‘Counting and Multidimensional Poverty Measurement’, Journal of Public Economics, vol 96, pp. 476–487.

    Foster J. E and Alkire, S., (2011). ‘Understandings and misunderstandings of multidimensional poverty measurement’, The Journal of Economic Inequality, vol. 9 (2), pp. 289–314.

    Foster J. E., Alkire, S., and Santos, M. (2011). ‘Where did identification go?’ The Journal of Economic Inequality, vol. 9 (3), pp. 501–505.

    Foster J. E., (2010). ‘Freedom, Opportunity and Wellbeing,’ in (K. Arrow, A. Sen, and K. Suzumura, eds.), Handbook of Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 2, pp. 687–728, North Holland, Elsevier. 

    Foster J. E., Dutta I., and Mishra A., (2011). ‘On Measuring Vulnerability to Poverty’, Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 37 (4), pp. 743–761. 

    Foster J. E., Greer J., and Thorbecke E. (2010). ‘The Foster-Greer-Thorbecke Poverty Measures: Twenty Five Years Later’ Journal of Economic Inequality, vol. 8, pp. 491–524.

    Foster J. E., and Wolfson, M. C., (2010). ‘Polarization and the Decline of the Middle Class: Canada and the U.S.’, Journal of Economic Inequality, vol. 8 (2), pp. 247–273.

    Foster J. E., (2010). ‘Notes on Effective Freedom’, OPHI Working Paper 34, University of Oxford.

    Foster J. E., and Alkire, S. (2010). ‘Designing the Inequality-Adjusted Human Development Index (HDI)’ UNDP HDR Background Paper; also published as OPHI Working Paper 37.

    Foster J. E., (2010). ‘A Report on Mexican Multidimensional Poverty Measurement,’ in (Julio Boltvinik, et al, eds.), Medición Multidimensional de la Pobreza en México, El Colegio de México.

    Foster J. E., Anderson K., and Friscold D., (2010). ‘Investing in Health: The Long-Term Impact of Head Start on Smoking’,Economic Inquiry, vol. 48 (3), pp. 587–602.

    Foster J. E and Székely M., (2008). ‘Is Economic Growth Good for the Poor? Tracking Low Incomes Using General Means’, International Economic Review, vol. 49 (4), pp. 1143–1172. 

    Foster J. E and Handy C., (2008). ‘External Capabilities’ in (Basu K. and Kanbur R. Eds.), Arguments for a Better World: Essays in Honor of Amartya Sen, Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

    Foster J. E, (2009). ‘A Class of Chronic Poverty Measures’, in (Addison A., Hulme D., and Kanbur R. Eds), Poverty Dynamics: Towards Inter-disciplinary Approaches, Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

    Foster J. E., and Alkire, S. (2011). ‘Counting and Multidimensional Poverty Measurement’, Journal of Public Economics, 95(7), pp. 476–478.

    Foster J. E., (2006). ‘Inequality Measurement’, in (Clark D. Ed.) The Elgar Companion to Development Studies, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

    Foster J. E.,  (2005). ‘Poverty Indices’ in (de Janvry A. and Kanbur R. eds.), Poverty, Inequality and Development: Essays in Honor of Erik Thorbecke, Amsterdam: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

    Foster J. E., Lopez Calva L. F., and M. Székely, (2005). ‘Measuring the Distribution of Human Development: Methodology and an Application to Mexico’, Journal of Human Development, vol. 6, pp. 5–25.

  • Curriculum Vitae