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  • Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative (OPHI)

    Oxford Department of International Development

    Queen Elizabeth House (QEH), University of Oxford

    * Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative (OPHI), Queen Elizabeth House (QEH), Department of International Development, University of Oxford, UK, +44 1865 618643,

    ** Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative (OPHI), Queen Elizabeth House (QEH), Department of International Development, University of Oxford, UK +44 1865 271915,

    This study has been prepared within the OPHI theme on multidimensional poverty measurement.

    OPHI gratefully acknowledges support from the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)/(DFID) Joint Scheme, Robertson Foundation, Praus, UNICEF NDjamena Chad Country Office, German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (GIZ), Georg-August-Universitt Gttingen, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), John Fell Oxford University Press (OUP) Research Fund, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Report Office, national UNDP and UNICEF offices, and private benefactors. International Development Research Council (IDRC) of Canada, Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), UK Department of International Development (DFID), and AusAID are also recognised for their past support.

    ISSN 2040-8188 ISBN 978-19-0719-455-9


    Measuring and Decomposing Inequality among the Multidimensionally Poor Using Ordinal Data: A Counting Approach

    Suman Seth* and Sabina Alkire** January 2014


    Poverty has many dimensions, which, in practice, are often binary or ordinal in nature. A number of multidimensional measures of poverty have recently been proposed that respect this ordinal nature. These measures agree that the consideration of inequality across the poor is important, which is typically captured by adjusting the poverty measure to be sensitive to inequality. This, however, comes at the cost of sacrificing certain policy-relevant properties, such as not being able to break down the measure across dimensions to understand their contributions to overall poverty. In addition, compounding inequality into a poverty measure does not necessarily create an appropriate framework for capturing disparity in poverty across population subgroups, which is crucial for effective policy. In this paper, we propose using a separate decomposable inequality measure a positive multiple of variance to capture inequality in deprivation counts among the poor and decompose across population subgroups. We provide two illustrations using Demographic Health Survey datasets to demonstrate how this inequality measure adds important information to the adjusted headcount ratio poverty measure in the Alkire-Foster class of measures.

  • Seth and Alkire Inequality among the Multidimensionally Poor using Ordinal Data

    The Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) is a research centre within the Oxford Department of International Development, Queen Elizabeth House, at the University of Oxford. Led by Sabina Alkire, OPHI aspires to build and advance a more systematic methodological and economic framework for reducing multidimensional poverty, grounded in peoples experiences and values.

    This publication is copyright, however it may be reproduced without fee for teaching or non-profit purposes, but not for resale. Formal permission is required for all such uses, and will normally be granted immediately. For copying in any other circumstances, or for re-use in other publications, or for translation or adaptation, prior written permission must be obtained from OPHI and may be subject to a fee. Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative (OPHI) Oxford Department of International Development Queen Elizabeth House (QEH), University of Oxford 3 Mansfield Road, Oxford OX1 3TB, UK Tel. +44 (0)1865 271915 Fax +44 (0)1865 281801 The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s). Publication does not imply endorsement by OPHI or the University of Oxford, nor by the sponsors, of any of the views expressed.

    Keywords: inequality decomposition, inequality among the poor, multidimensional poverty, counting approach, variance decomposition.

    JEL classification: D6, O1


    We are grateful to our colleagues at OPHI including James Foster, to the participants of the Centre for the Study of African Economies annual conference 2013 at Oxford, the Development Studies Association conference 2013 at Birmingham, the Southern Economic Association annual meetings 2013 at Tampa as well as to participants in the March 2013 HDRO workshop for helpful initial responses and to Milorad Kovacevic in particular for comments.

  • Seth and Alkire Inequality among the Multidimensionally Poor using Ordinal Data


    1. Introduction

    The progress of a society remains incomplete without improving the conditions of those stricken

    with poverty. It is commonly agreed that there are three important aspects of poverty incidence,

    intensity and inequality that should receive practical consideration. 1 Any policy design for

    alleviating poverty and the relevant outcome may be influenced by the mechanism used for assessing

    the progress of the poor, which is normally a poverty measure. Whether a poverty measure captures

    incidence, intensity or inequality has large consequences for the incentives of a policy maker. A

    measure that only captures the incidence of poverty but neither the intensity of poverty nor the

    inequality across the poor (e.g., a headcount ratio measure like the 2005 UNICEF child poverty

    index or the $1.25/day poverty rate in the single-dimensional context) would create incentives for a

    policy maker, who is keen on showing a large reduction in overall poverty, to improve the lives of

    those who are least poor, but it would implicitly create incentives to deliberately ignore those who

    experience the severest poverty. On the other hand, a measure such as the global Multidimensional

    Poverty Index (MPI) published in the UNDPs Human Development Reports, which captures the

    incidence and also the intensity of poverty, provides an incentive to policy makers to address the

    poorest as well as the least poor. But it does not give over-riding incentives to the policy maker to

    prioritize the conditions of the poorest. Even with similar levels of overall poverty alleviation, one

    may seek to ascertain whether the fruit of poverty alleviation has been shared uniformly or equally

    across different population subgroups within a society. This is important in order to avoid

    aggravating horizontal inequality (Stewart 2008). Again, existing methodologies like the MPI, which

    are decomposable by subgroup, may be used to check the changes in performance of different

    subgroups separately but may not provide any conclusive response regarding the disparity across


    Since the seminal work of Sen (1976), a number of poverty measures reflecting all three aspects have

    been proposed in the context of unidimensional income poverty measurement.2 However, there is a

    growing consensus that the measurement of poverty should not be confined to any single

    dimension, such as income, because poverty has multiple facets or dimensions. This understanding

    of the multidimensional nature of poverty has caused interest in the analysis of multidimensional

    poverty to grow significantly and a number of poverty measures have been proposed with the

    1 Jenkins and Lambert (1997) refer these three aspects as three Is of poverty. 2 See Thon (1979); Clark, Hemming, and Ulph (1981); Chakravarty (1983); Foster, Greer and Thorbecke (1984), and Shorrocks (1995).

  • Seth and Alkire Inequality among the Multidimensionally Poor using Ordinal Data


    objective of improving its understanding and assessment. One branch of measures has been

    constructed under the assumption that dimensions are cardinal in nature (Chakravarty, Mukherjee

    and Ranade 1998; Tsui 2002; Bourguignon and Chakravarty 2003, Massoumi and Lugo 2008). The

    wider application of these measures may be limited by the fact that many dimensions are ordinal in

    practice or binary in nature. This has led to the development of another branch of measures that

    takes into consideration this practical nature ordinal and dichotomous of dimensions (Alkire and

    Foster 2007, 2011; Bossert, Chakravarty and DAmbrosio 2009; Jayaraj and Subramanian 2009;

    Rippin 2012). We refer to this second branch of measures as counting measures of multidimensional

    poverty following the extensive literature (Atkinson 2003). These measures concentrate on counting

    the number of dimensions to identify the poor. The counting approach to the measuring of

    multidimensional poverty is our focus in this paper.

    It may be quite straightforward to capture inequality among the poor within each dimension for

    measures using cardinal data, but such liberty is greatly circumscribed when dimensions are ordinal

    and dichotomous. Yet inequality among the poor can still be captured through the extent of the

    simultaneous deprivations that they suffer. This is a natural starting point, when each persons

    deprivation profile is summarized in a cardinally meaningful score that shows the weighted sum of

    their deprivations, and can be used to assess


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