Childhood Economic Well-Being in South Africa: Construction of a Theoretically-Grounded Empirically-Derived Multidimensional Measure

  • Ashley TurbevilleEmail author
  • J. Lawrence Aber
  • Sharon L. Weinberg
  • Linda Richter
  • Alastair van Heerden


This study uses the bioecological framework and methodology to select items for and to test a multidimensional structure of a measure of children’s economic well-being in a multi-community sample of children (7–11 years) and their households (N = 1958) from KwaZulu-Natal, a poor and under-served region of South Africa. Economic well-being was assessed using questionnaires completed by children’s caregivers and household heads. Exploratory factor analysis of four random split halves identified three dimensions of economic well-being: Fiscal Appraisal (subjective experiences of access to/allocation of resources), Material Assets (durable goods and living environment), and Fiscal Capacity (traditional measures of poverty: income, expenditures, employment). Confirmatory factor analysis verified the higher order model of economic well-being with the three dimensions. Invariance testing using multiple group factor analysis indicated confidence for use of this measure with varying types of communities in South Africa. The results reflect the multidimensional nature of economic well-being. Thus, the often-used money metric measures of poverty likely paint an incomplete picture of children’s actual economic well-being. Because our sample consists of impoverished households, our measure of economic well-being is sensitive to variation at the deep end of poverty. Implications for theory and future research are discussed.


South Africa Child poverty Child deprivation Child economic well-being Poverty measure Bioecological framework 



We would like to acknowledge The SIZE Research Group for their contributions to the project that made work possible.


NYU Global TIES for Children: Transforming Intervention Effectiveness and Scale provided the funding for the statistical package used in the analyses in this paper. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (1R01HD055137) funded the SIZE project. New York University Abu Dhabi Research Institute funded Dr. Aber’s work with the project.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Research Involving Human Participants

The Research Ethics Committee at the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) in South Africa and the Institutional Review Boards at New York University (NYU) approved all study procedures. Data was collected after informed consent was obtained.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019
corrected publication 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.New York UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.NYU Global TIESNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Human DevelopmentUniversity of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa
  4. 4.Human and Social Development Research ProgrammeHuman Sciences Research CouncilPretoriaSouth Africa

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