Research Paper: 54b

Multidimensional Poverty Reduction in India 2005/6–2015/16: Still a Long Way to Go but the Poorest are Catching Up

Following Amartya Sen’s pioneering ideas on poverty and inequality measurement, the development economics literature proposes diverse classes of measures as well as poverty orderings. Yet in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the headcount ratio is the primary statistic for measuring monetary and multidimensional poverty. Rigorously analysing the trends of multidimensional poverty for India between 2005/6 and 2015/16, we illustrate how the headcount ratio is not able to observe certain centrally important requirements of the SDGs – such as whether anyone is being left behind, or how deprivations are interlinked. We propose using the adjusted headcount ratio or Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) as the primary poverty measure for policy assessment, supplemented by the headcount ratio, intensity, number of poor, and composition of poverty, to provide more accurate analyses. Exploiting cross-sectional data comprising of more than three million individuals and a panel of 29 states and several socio-economic subgroups, we show empirically how the reduction of multidimensional poverty by 271 million unfolded within a decade. In contrast to earlier periods in time, we find that the poorest of the poor saw the largest reductions in multidimensional poverty due to falling levels of intensity – a feature the headcount ratio alone cannot portray. Despite the importance of the MPI we also recognise the inherent and enduring need to probe the headcount ratio and number of poor statistics. Hence we corroborate these stark findings with an assessment of the dominance of the distribution of attainment scores which establishes the relationship between MPI and H in both periods. To assess the robustness, 19 additional MPIs are constructed, having different indicator definitions and combinations, and it is found that in nearly all of these a greater number of persons left poverty.

Further developed version of this paper has been published in the World Development, Vol. 142, 2021.

Citation: Alkire, S., Oldiges, C. and Kanagaratnam, U. (2020). ‘Multidimensional poverty reduction in India 2005/6–2015/16: Still a long way to go but the poorest are catching up’, OPHI Research in Progress 54b, Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, University of Oxford.