Policy – A multidimensional approach

What is multidimensional poverty?

Poverty is often defined by one-dimensional measures, such as income. But no one indicator alone can capture the multiple aspects that constitute poverty.

Multidimensional poverty is made up of several factors that constitute poor people’s experience of deprivation – such as poor health, lack of education, inadequate living standard, lack of income (as one of several factors considered), disempowerment, poor quality of work and threat from violence.

A multidimensional measure can incorporate a range of indicators to capture the complexity of poverty and better inform policies to relieve it. Different indicators can be chosen appropriate to the society and situation.

Why use a multidimensional approach?

  • Income alone can miss a lot. For example, economic growth has been strong in India in recent years. In contrast, the prevalence of child malnutrition has remained at nearly 50 per cent, which is among the highest rates worldwide (Citizens’ Initiative for the Rights of Children Under Six. 2006. Focus on Children Under Five (FOCUS). New Delhi: Secretariat of the Right to Food Campaign). For a more recent reference see Drèze and Sen (2013), An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions. Princeton University Press. Multidimensional measures can complement income.
  • Poor people themselves describe their experience of poverty as multidimensional. Participatory exercises reveal that poor people describe ill-being to include poor health, nutrition, lack of adequate sanitation and clean water, social exclusion, low education, bad housing conditions, violence, shame, disempowerment and much more.
  • The more policy-relevant information there is available on poverty, the better-equipped policy makers will be to reduce it. For example, an area in which most people are deprived in education is going to require a different poverty reduction strategy to an area in which most people are deprived in housing conditions.
  • Some methods for multidimensional measurement, such as the OPHI-developed Alkire Foster method, can be used for additional purposes. In addition to measuring poverty and wellbeing, OPHI’s method can be adapted to target services and conditional cash transfers or to monitor the performance of programmes.

OPHI has published a brochure, ‘Measuring Multidimensional Poverty: Insights from Around the World,’ which features case studies on how a multidimensional approach to measuring poverty has been adapted and applied in Colombia, Mexico, Bhutan, China, El Salvador, Malaysia and Minas Gerais in Brazil, among others.

View a presentation about OPHI’s work on multidimensional poverty in EnglishSpanish or Russian.