Concepts, Measurement and Causes of Poverty

Topics: Poverty, Poverty threshold, Household income in the United States Pages: 28 (9072 words) Published: August 28, 2012
CONCEPTS, MEASUREMENT AND CAUSES OF POVERTY BY Prof. D. O. Ajakaiye and Dr. V. A. Adeyeye 1. BACKGROUND Thoughts on appropriate conceptualization, measurement and accurate characterization of determinants of poverty have a long history. From analytical perspective, thinking about poverty can be traced back at least to the codification of poor laws in medieval England, through to the pioneering empirical studies, at the turn of the century, by Booth in London and by Rowntree in York. Rowntree’s study, published in 1901, was the first to develop a poverty standard for individual families, based on estimates of nutritional and other requirements. In the 1960s, the main focus of poverty debate was on the level of income, reflected in macro – economic indicators like Gross National Product per capita. This was associated with emphasis on growth, as exemplified in the work of the Pearson Commission, Partners in Development (1969). In the 1970s, poverty became prominent, notably as a result of Robert MacNamara’s celebrated speech to the World Bank Board of Governors in Nairobi in 1973, and the subsequent publication of Redistribution with Growth. Debate on poverty conceptualization was further upgraded by two factors. First was emphasis on relative deprivation, inspired by work in the UK by Runciman and Townsend. Townsend in particular, helped redefine poverty: not just as a failure to meet minimum nutrition or Subsistence levels, but rather as a failure to keep up with the standards prevalent in a given society.

*Prof. D.O Ajakaiye and Dr. V. A. Adeyeye are of the Nigerian Institute for Social and Economic Research (NISER), Ibadan.


The second shift was to broaden the concept of income – poverty, to a wider set of ‘basic needs’, including those provided socially. Thus, following ILO’s pioneering work in the mid – 1970s, poverty came to be defined not just as lack of income, but also as lack of access to health, education and other services. Conceptualization of poverty gathered fresh momentum in the 1980s. The principal innovations were five: First was the incorporation of non – monetary aspects, particularly as a result of Robert Chamber’s work on powerlessness and isolation. This helped to inspire greater attention to participation. Second was a new interest in

vulnerability and security, associated with better understanding of seasonality and of the impact of shocks. This pointed to the importance of assets as buffers, and also to social relations (the moral economy, social capital). It led to new work on coping strategies. Third was the broadening of the concept of poverty to a wider construct, livelihood. Fourth and perhaps more innovative was the theoretical work by Amartya Sen, which introduced the notion of food entitlement, or access. He emphasized that income was only valuable in so far as it increased the ‘capabilites’ of individuals and thereby permitted ‘ functioning’s’ in society. Finally, the 1980s was characterized by a rapid increase in the study of gender. The debate moved from a focus on women alone (women in development (WID), to wider gender relations (gender and development (GAD). Policies to empower women and redress gender poverty gap were then given enhanced attention. The 1990s saw further development of the poverty concept. The idea of well – being came to act as a metaphor for absence of poverty, with concomitant emphasis on how poor people themselves view their situation: “The voice of the poor” At the same time, inspired by Sen, UNDP developed the idea of human development: ‘ the denial of opportunities and choice…….. to lead a long, healthy, creative life and to enjoy a decent standard of living, freedom, dignity, self – esteem and the respect of others……..’


Major merit of tracing the evolution of poverty conceptualization measurement and determinants is that it provides insight into the...

Atkinson, Anthony B., (1987), “On the Measurement of Poverty”, Econometrics 55: 74964
Empirical Result for the Human Development Index” Journal of International Development 6 (4) : 415-435. Dandekar, V.M., and N. Rath, 1971, Poverty in India. Pune: Indian School of Political Economy.
World Bank (1995b) “Distribution and Growth: Complements Not Compromises” Policy Research Bulletin 6(3), May-July6
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