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Lifting the lid on the household: A new way to measure individual deprivation

April 23, 2015
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Guest post on an important new initiative from Scott Wisor, Joanne Crawford, Sharon Bessell and Janet Hunt

You don’t have to look far to find assertions that up to 70% of the world’s poor are women ‑ despite Duncan’s efforts to show

But how to measure it?

But how to measure it?

 

that the claim cannot be substantiated.

Just last month, ONE launched a new campaign called “Poverty is Sexist”, drawing on star power to bring attention to the issue of women’s poverty.

ONE didn’t use the 70% stat, but implied that poverty is feminized. Yet the reality is that it is still not possible to say whether women are disproportionately poor ‑ despite widespread calls for better sex-disaggregated statistics.

Why? Because both monetary measures of poverty such as the International Poverty Line and multidimensional measures such as the Multidimensional Poverty Index continue to use the household as the unit of analysis. This assumes that everyone in a given household is equally poor or not poor – and that’s a big problem.

Not to mention concerns about the gendered differences in the experience of poverty. How do you price the value of being free from violence or securely accessing family planning?

These are not small problems. A great deal hangs on how we measure social progress. Are development programs working? Do anti-poverty policies make a difference? Is foreign aid alleviating poverty? Evaluating households makes it impossible to see how different members of the household are doing. And failing to assess dimensions of life that are particularly important to poor women, or men, limits our ability to show whether and how their poverty differs.

So what to do? Well, despite heated debates about measuring global poverty, something of a consensus has emerged. Most experts now agree that monetary poverty measurement should be complemented by multidimensional measurements. The individual, not the household, should be the unit of analysis. Poverty measurement should reflect the views and priorities of poor people. And in so far as possible, measurement should provide meaningful comparisons across contexts and over time.

Seeing the individuals inside households matters

Seeing the individuals inside households matters

Enter the Individual Deprivation Measure. Five years ago, an international, interdisciplinary team led by the Australian National University set out to develop a genuinely gender-sensitive poverty measure. Working with poor women and men in Angola, Fiji, Indonesia, Malawi, Mozambique and the Philippines, we aimed to build from participants’ views to an internationally comparable measure of deprivation. We sought to bridge the gap between existing global measures determined without input from poor women and men, and highly localised poverty assessments that cannot be generalised.

In the first phase of participatory research, local research teams worked with poor men and women to determine how they conceived of poverty and hardship and how deprivation should be measured. In the second phase of research, participants told us which of the most commonly identified dimensions from Phase One were most important in determining whether a life was free from poverty and hardship.

From these findings, we constructed the Individual Deprivation Measure (IDM) and tested it in a nationally representative survey of 1800 people in the Philippines.

The IDM assesses the circumstances of individuals across 15 key dimensions of life. Within each dimension, the IDM IDM 2measures how deprived someone is on a 1 to 5 interval scale where 1 represents the most deprived (such as no improved water source, more than 30 minutes from home) and 5 represents a lack of deprivation (such as an improved water source in the home). So it tells us more about how difficult life is than existing monetary measures, which count whether a person is above or below a set line (say, $2 a day), and multidimensional poverty measures, which count whether a person falls below or above the threshold in a given dimension.

Poor women and men told us some deprivations were more significant than others, and weighting is used to reflect this. Within each dimension, we give greater weight to more severe deprivations (having no source of clean water counts for more than having one you can walk to). Across the dimensions, the 5 dimensions poor men and women ranked as most important for getting out of poverty are given more weight than the second five, and the second five more than the last 5. Weighting always creates debate, and there are certainly alternative methods of setting participatory weights. Importantly, our approach reflects participants’ views that improvement in your circumstances is more important the worse off you are, and some dimensions are more important than others.

How poor you are matters

How poor you are matters

An individual’s weighted score in each dimension is added up to give an overall IDM score. When we do this for all adult members of a household, we can evaluate how poverty varies based on gender, age, ethnicity or race, geographic location, or whether you live with disability.  This enables tracking of horizontal inequalities.  The IDM can also provide a gender equity measure more relevant to poor people than existing approaches, by calculating the gap between men’s and women’s achievements, overall or in particular dimensions, within a household or across the population.

There is still work to do in developing the IDM. But it is already a manifest improvement on current monetary and multidimensional measures, reflected in the strong interest at a recent side event at the Commission on the Status of Women.  We expect interest to accelerate as results demonstrate what the IDM can reveal. Data from a national study of poverty in Fiji using the IDM will be available later this year, a proposal in Romania is pending decision and proponents in Costa Rica are seeking funding. The IDM has been adapted by the Ethical Research Institute for a multidimensional poverty study in Israel (results in Hebrew only now but English is coming). And a number of INGOs are interested in the IDM for baselines.

To know if no one is being left behind, we need to measure the poverty of individuals. The IDM makes this possible. The question now is whether governments and NGOs will get on with making poverty measurement reflect the true breadth, depth, and distribution of deprivation.

Acknowledgements: The research underpinning the IDM was led by the Australian National University and funded by the Australian Research Council (LP0989385), with significant additional support from International Women’s Development Agency, Oxfam Great Britain (Southern Africa), Oxfam America, Philippine Health and Social Science Association, the University of Colorado at Boulder and Oslo University.   Huge thanks to local research teams and participants.

An edited version of this post also appears on the Guardian website

 

 

9 comments

  1. Great methodology! One of the most common arguments from researchers working in development is that using the individual as the unit of measurement is not feasible due to time and budget constraints.
    Can you provide any information on the time requirements for implementing the IDM?

  2. Interesting article! Thanks. I would, however, like to link this article with the one posted on this site on the 21st April discussing the data revolution. Here we see clear evidence of some of the advantages as well as pitfalls and dangers of comparative data usage. If we do not share a common understanding of what we are measuring and how we are measuring it, we are bound to come up with different interpretations, including that of gender-based poverty. Issues of concepts and definitions (what is poverty; what is monetary poverty; what is deprivation?), questionnaire development methods (what tools, including background participatory research, should be used for questionnaire design?) data collection methods (are qualitative,quantitative or combined methods comparable?), analytic tools (what statistical techniques are used to obtain indices such as the IDM?), denominators (households or individuals?) and ability to generalize research findings (can we generalize from Angola, Fiji, Indonesia, Malawi, Mozambique and the Philippines to all countries?) are clearly evident in this article. Different approaches lead to different results. For example, in the 1990s in South Africa, a Principal Components Analysis, based on a survey of 30 000 households was undertaken to obtain a more comprehensive understanding of poverty (or should I call it deprivation?). This analysis yielded not one, but two distinct components or factors: the first, which we called living conditions, was related to type of dwelling in which a person lived, access to clean water, sanitation, refuse removal etc.; while the second, which we called life circumstances, was linked to highest level of education, access to health care, access to employment among those of working age, income, expenditure patterns, etc. These two different components of poverty were useful in the specific context of South Africa, but may not have relevance elsewhere. So we do need to be careful when applying concepts, definitions, data collection methods, and indices globally.

  3. Anja, Thanks for your question. The survey can be done in under 60 minutes in most cases per respondent. Then the total household time depends on the number of adult respondents, plus some additional time for return visits to the house if respondents are not around on initial visits. So the time is actually much shorter than many multi-topic surveys, and certainly shorter than most consumption-expenditure surveys.

  4. Hi Ros. Thanks for an informative comment. (Was this the 1990s study discussed in a 2000 article by Klasen?) We agree that important questions arise in comparisons across diverse contexts with regards to deprivation. Our view is that the dimensions and indicators in the IDM are useful for measuring deprivation across contexts. But we recommend that additional indicators and dimensions be added in specific contexts to make the IDM context sensitive. In this way, you can have an internationally comparable measure of deprivation, and a context sensitive measure of deprivation, both produced from a single survey. Indeed huge questions of translatability arise in interpreting how poverty is to be understood and measured across contexts, and this was in many ways the central challenge of the early phases of the project (discussed in more detail in the report).

  5. “Why is the IDM important?

    It is the first poverty measure in the world based on the views of poor women and men.

    We can see which factors make them poor, and measure the depth of their poverty.

    By measuring the poverty of individuals instead of households, the IDM can show differences by gender, age, disability and ethnicity – including within households.

    Any differences between adult women and men in each area of life can also be added up to generate a new gender equity measure that is relevant to poor people.”

    So this means that children – their poverty, their deprivations, their views – don’t matter? For what reason, and by what logic, are they excluded?

  6. Dear Richard

    Thanks for raising this – its a critical question. The research that underpinned the IDM did not include children for quite pragmatic reasons. Like all research projects, we had limitations in terms of our resources. To undertake research with children on the kinds of sensitive issues discussed in the development of the IDM has particular ethical and methodological implications. Doing research with children on poverty and other sensitive or difficult issues can and should be done – and I’ve spent the past 20 years working primarily with children. But based on that experience, it is my strong view – shared by the research team – that it is better not to do research with children than to do it badly or unethically. For those reasons children under adolescence (and that is a concept that does not have much traction in some sites we worked it) were not included in the participatory research.
    Having made that decision (I believe for good reasons), it would have been inappropriate – and highly ‘unparticipatory’ – to have simply concluded that children could be brought into the IDM, and childhood poverty can be measured by it. We talk about these (quite difficult) decisions in the report.
    Having said all of that, several of the research teams now have plans for a follow-on project focusing specifically on children, based on participatory work with children on ‘their poverty, their deprivations’, as you so nicely put it. From that we will know whether the IDM is applicable to children, or whether a different tool – or an adjusted tool – is necessary.
    There are important ethical questions about asking children about issues of violence, exclusion, discrimination in a survey, without providing support. Of course, those questions are also there when we survey adults – but are more acute when working with children. This question of the most appropriate way of understanding children’s poverty and deprivation in a way that is child-centred will be at the heart of the research we are hoping to pursue now.
    So, in sum, our logic was not that children do not matter – but that they matter too much to get this wrong. I hope that in another couple of years (and I’m afraid the research will take that long) we can be back here taking meaningfully about better and appropriate ways of measuring and understanding childhood poverty.
    best wishes
    Sharon

  7. Dear Sharon,
    Thanks so much for this excellent and detailed reply. And I fully agree that ” it is better not to do research with children than to do it badly or unethically”. You and your colleagues were undoubtedly wise and correct to take this approach, recognizing the particular challenges and demands on research when working with children. I am glad also that the decision not to include children in the research is discussed in the report. What I would kindly suggest is that you consider including this important point on the research coverage in your blogs and summaries going forward – otherwise the quick/busy/overly-casual reader gets the impression that, in talking of discussions with ‘poor men and women’ that children are considered not to matter (when, very arguably, they are the people both most likely to be poor and most harmed by poverty and its impacts). In fact it would I suggest be a very strong opportunity to point out how children do matter and that, far from falling into a familiar pattern of ‘adult-blindness’ when it comes to children’s poverty and deprivations, it is seen as a crucial research issue that needs to be treated more seriously in its own right (sorry for inelegant phrasing).

    I’d be very interested to be able to follow the forthcoming participatory research that is being planned with children, as and when it gets off the ground. As you know, evidence is scarce (albeit not non-existent) in this area, particularly of a participatory nature. If you’re able to share information going forward, I’m at richgmorgan@hotmail.com and also head the child poverty global initiative at Save the Children. We might also discuss potential scope for collaboration.

    Many thanks again for the detailed and clear reply. Very best to you and your colleagues.

    Richard

  8. Dear Sharon,
    Thanks so much for this excellent and detailed reply. And I fully agree that ” it is better not to do research with children than to do it badly or unethically”. You and your colleagues were undoubtedly wise and correct to take this approach, recognizing the particular challenges and demands on research when working with children. I am glad also that the decision not to include children in the research is discussed in the report. What I would kindly suggest is that you consider including this important point on the research coverage in your blogs and summaries going forward – otherwise the quick/busy/overly-casual reader gets the impression that, in talking of discussions with ‘poor men and women’ that children are considered not to matter (when, very arguably, they are the people both most likely to be poor and most harmed by poverty and its impacts). In fact it would I suggest be a very strong opportunity to point out how children do matter and that, far from falling into a familiar pattern of ‘adult-blindness’ when it comes to children’s poverty and deprivations, it is seen as a crucial research issue that needs to be treated more seriously in its own right (sorry for inelegant phrasing).

    I’d be very interested to be able to follow the forthcoming participatory research that is being planned with children, as and when it gets off the ground. As you know, evidence is scarce (albeit not non-existent) in this area, particularly of a participatory nature. If you’re able to share information going forward, I’m at richgmorgan@hotmail.com and also head the child poverty global initiative at Save the Children. We might also discuss potential scope for collaboration.
    Many thanks again for the detailed and clear reply. Very best to you and your colleagues.
    Richard Morgan

  9. Hi Richard
    Thank for your follow up comments. Your point about explaining why children are not included here – but should always be included but in appropriate ways (despite short word limits) – is very well made. I like your recommendation that this is an opportunity to make the point that children matter – and need to be considered independent of households and adult poverty. It is good to be in touch.
    best wishes
    Sharon

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