Social Indicators Research

, Volume 142, Issue 1, pp 131–147 | Cite as

The Truly Vulnerable: Integrating Wealth into the Measurement of Poverty and Social Policy Effectiveness

  • Sarah KuypersEmail author
  • Ive Marx


There is a burgeoning literature on wealth in the rich world. It mainly focuses on the top. This paper shows that assets can also matter for the analysis of poverty and financial vulnerability. We introduce the concept of triple precariousness, afflicting households that not only have low income but also very low or non-existent assets to draw on for consumption needs, especially liquid assets. We ask whether these households—whom we might call the truly vulnerable—have different characteristics from those that we identify as poor or needy on the basis of income based metrics. This study looks in detail at Belgium, a country that represents a particularly interesting case because households are known to have levels of household wealth that are among the highest in the Eurozone, especially around and below the median, and yet it also has a comparatively high poverty rate, measured using disposable household income, as is commonly done in poverty studies. Drawing on HFCS data, we show that households with a reference person that is young, unemployed, low educated, migrant, single, and above all a tenant are especially financially vulnerable. By contrast, our assessment of the extent and depth of financial need among the elderly—a segment of society that is at a relatively high risk of income poverty—also changes. A substantial share of income poor elderly households own significant assets. We draw out some tentative consequences of these findings for anti-poverty and redistributive policies.


Low income Low wealth Asset portfolio Social policy 

JEL Classification

D31 G11 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Herman Deleeck Centre for Social PolicyUniversity of AntwerpAntwerpBelgium

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