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,, disempowerment, poor quality of work, threat from violence, living in areas with environmental risk, among others.

A multidimensional measure of poverty can incorporate a range of indicators to capture the complexity of this phenomena, to inform policies in order to reduce poverty and deprivation in a country. Depending on the context of a country and the purpose of the measure different indicators can be chosen to reflect the needs and priorities of a country (region, district, province, etc.).

Why use a multidimensional approach?

  • Monetary poverty alone can miss a lot. Studies have revealed that the overlap between monetary and not monetary measures of poverty is not perfect. In most cases, not all individuals that are income poor are multidimensionally poor and not all multidimensionally poor individuals are income poor. This reveals the need to have monetary and not monetary measures of poverty in order to better inform policies about the needs and deprivations faced by poor populations.
  • Economic growth does not always reduce poverty or deprivation: Several studies have found that economic grow is not strongly associated with a reduction of other deprivations, such as child malnutrition or child mortality. For example, Drèze and Sen (2013), An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions. found that although the high levels of economic growth that India has had, there has not been an equal achievement in reducing deprivations in health or education.
  • 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. This topic is expanded in OPHI Briefing 49, ‘Defining MPI Dimensions through Participation: The Case of El Salvador’ which is found here.
  • 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 Alkire-Foster method, can be used for additional purposes. In addition to measuring poverty and wellbeing, Alkire-Foster method can be adapted to target services and conditional cash transfers or to monitor the performance of programmes. See, for example, OPHI Working Paper No. 53, ‘Selecting a Targeting Method to Identify BPL Households in India’, which is available here.

OPHI has published a brochure, ‘Measuring Multidimensional Poverty: Insights from Around the World’ (OPHI Briefing 30) 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. Also, the Multidimensional Poverty Peer Network presents a list of countries with National MPIs.

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