Meaning versus measurement: Why do ‘economic’ indicators of poverty still predominate?

Published on 1 January 2007

It is virtually undisputed that poverty is multi-dimensional. However, ‘economic’ or monetary measures of poverty still maintain a higher status in key development indicators and policy. This article is concerned with the apparent contradiction between the consensus over the meaning of poverty and the choice of methods with which to measure poverty in practice. A brief history of the meaning and measurement of poverty is given, and it is argued that ‘economic’ determinism, while it has gradually retreated from centrality in the meaning of poverty, has continued to dominate the measurement of poverty. This is followed by a section that contrasts the relative merits of ‘economic’ and ‘non-economic’ measures of poverty. The question is posed: why do ‘economic’ measures of poverty still have a higher status than non-economic measures?

Publication details

published by
Sumner, A.
Development in Practice, volume 17, issue 1


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