Multidimensional Poverty: Conceptual and Measurement Issues

  • Erik Thorbecke


Our understanding of the concept of poverty has improved and deepened considerably in the last three decades or so following Amartya Sen’s seminal work. Presently we possess the analytical tools to identify and locate the poor, to describe their characteristics and to measure the extent of poverty at different levels of aggregation. Yet, in spite of spectacular methodological advances in the analysis of poverty a number of conceptual and measurement issues remains to be addressed or further clarified. Ravi Kanbur (2002) has argued that the research on distributional issues in economics and development economics in the last thirty years can be divided roughly into two periods: (i) the 1970s to the mid-1980s and (ii) the mid-1980s to the end of the last century. The first 15 years were a ‘period of great conceptual leaps and ferment’ while the second period was marked by ‘consolidation, application and fierce policy debate’. Very recent methodological contributions suggest that we are entering a period of resurgence in research attempting to sharpen and broaden our view of poverty.


Poverty Line Poverty Measure Multidimensional Poverty Poverty Threshold Poverty Trap 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Atkinson, A.B. and F. Bourguignon (1982) ‘The Comparison of MultiDimensional Distributions of Economic Status’, Review of Economic Studies, 49, 183–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bourguignon, F. and S.R. Chakravarty (2003) ‘The Measurement of Multidimensional Poverty’, Journal of Economic Inequality, 1, 25–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Christiaensen, L. and R.N. Boisvert (2000) ‘Measuring Household Food Vulnerability: Case Evidence from Northern Mali’. Working Paper, Department of Agricultural, Resource, and Managerial Economics, Cornell University.Google Scholar
  4. de Janvry, A. and E. Sadoulet (2005) ‘Designing Social Safety Net Programs to Directly Protect from Shocks the Assets of the Vulnerable’. Paper prepared for the World Bank/DFID Workshop on Growth and Risk, Leuven, June.Google Scholar
  5. Dercon, S. (1996) ‘Risk, Crop Choice, and Savings: Evidence from Tanzania’, Economic Development and Cultural Change, 44(3), 485–513.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Dercon, S. (2005a) ‘Risk, Growth and Poverty: What Do We Know, What Do We Need to Know’. Paper prepared for the World Bank/DFID Workshop on Growth and Risk, Leuven, June.Google Scholar
  7. Dercon, S. (2005b) ‘Vulnerability: a Micro Perspective’. Paper presented at the ABCDE for Europe.Google Scholar
  8. Duclos, J.-Y., D. Sahn and S. Younger (forthcoming) ‘Robust Multidimensional Poverty Comparisons’, Economic Journal.Google Scholar
  9. Elbers, C. and J.W. Gunning (2003) ‘Estimating Vulnerability’, Department of Economics, Free University of Amsterdam.Google Scholar
  10. Foster, J. J. Greer and E. Thorbecke (1984) ‘A Class of Decomposable Poverty Measures’, Econometrica, 52, 761–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Kanbur, R. (2002) ‘Conceptual Challenges in Poverty and Inequality: One Development Economist’s Perspective’, Working Paper 2002–09, Department of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University.Google Scholar
  12. Kanbur, R. (ed.) (2003) Q-Squared: Combining Qualitative and Quantitative Methods of Poverty Appraisal. Delhi: Permanent Black.Google Scholar
  13. Ligon, E. and L. Schechter (2003) ‘Measuring Vulnerability’, Economic Journal, 113, 95–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Ravallion, M. and B. Bidani (1994) ‘How Robust is a Poverty Profile?’, World Bank Economic Review 8(1), 75–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Ravallion, M. (1998) Poverty Lines in Theory and Practice, Living Standard Measurement Study Working Paper 133. Washington DC: World Bank.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Streeten, P. First Things First: Meeting Basic Human Needs in Developing Countries. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Tarp, F., K. Simler, C. Matusse, R. Heltberg, and C. Dava (2002) ‘The Robustness of Poverty Profiles Reconsidered’, Economic Development and Cultural Change, 51(1) 77–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Thorbecke, E. (2003) ‘Tensions, Complementarities and Possible Convergence Between the Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches to Poverty Assessment’, In R. Kanbur (ed.), Q-Squared: Combining Qualitative and Quantitative Methods in Poverty Appraisal. Delhi: Permanent Black.Google Scholar
  19. Tsui, K.-Y. ‘Multidimensional Poverty Indices’, Social Choice and Welfare, 19, 69–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Wood, G. ‘Staying Secure, Staying Poor: the “Faustian Bargain”’, World Development, 31, 3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Erik Thorbecke

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations