Presentation: Launch of the special issue of the Journal of Economic Inequality: 'Measuring Poverty Over Time' (Luc Christiaensen and Tony Shorrocks, guest editors), Washington DC, USA
World Bank, Washington DC
14 June 2012 14:00 Washington DC - 16:30
Publications and Information Assistant
The conceptualization and measurement of poverty has been the subject of intense study for more than a century. The adoption of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000 gave additional stimulus to these longstanding efforts, this time at the global level, and the progress made towards reducing world poverty is encouraging. World Bank estimates, for example, suggest that the percentage of the population in the developing world living below US$1.25 a day declined from 52 per cent in 1981 to 22 per cent in 2008, bringing the number of people living below this line down from 1.94 billion in 1981 to 1.29 billion in 2008. These numbers are now based on over 850 household surveys for almost 130 developing countries, representing 90 per cent of the population of the developing world, compared with only 22 surveys for 22 countries when the first such estimates were reported in the 1990 World Development Report.
Alongside improvements to the quantity and quality of data, there have also been significant advances in conceptualizing and measuring poverty. One noticeable shift is the movement away from an exclusive focus on consumption-poverty, with attention now often also given to non-income dimensions of wellbeing, such as literacy achievements, nutritional health status, and individual empowerment. This has led to lengthy debate concerning the way in which various dimensions of wellbeing are best combined into a single multidimensional poverty measure.
But, even staying within the uni-dimensional consumption-poverty domain, there are many unresolved issues which deserve attention, especially regarding the time dimension in poverty. Consider, for instance, two individuals who are currently the same distance below the (consumption) poverty line. One person has spent his whole life in poverty; the other has just dropped below the poverty line for the first time. Labelling the two individuals equally poor would seem an inadequate characterization of their relative poverty status, unless current consumption fully captures the cumulative effects of a lifetime of poverty, which is unlikely. If...