Poverty is a complex concept. A widespread view argues that important aspects of poverty cannot be measured in monetary terms – in fact, to successfully address poverty, we need to measure it in all its facets. The recent release of the 2018 edition of the Poverty and Shared Prosperity Report contains Global measures of multidimensional poverty have a rich history, a prominent example being the annual Global MPI produced by the United Nations Development Programme with the Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative.
Last week we had World Food Day on October 16 and World Poverty Day on October 17. The good news from World Poverty Day is that there is global progress on reducing extreme poverty. Based on the latest available data, it is estimated that in 2015 there were 736 million people living on less than US$1.90/day, which compares very favorably to the 1,895 million people living in extreme poverty in 1990. And while the world’s population grew from 5.3 billion in 1990 to 7.4 billion in 2015, the poverty rate fell from 36 percent to 10 percent or 1 percentage point per year on average over this period.
Along with the Center for Experimental Social Science at Nuffield College at Oxford, eMBeD co-organized a conference called “Measuring the Tricky Things.” The lineup included Susan Fiske presenting a magisterial overview of her decades-long work on the stereotype content model, Armin Falk on his groundbreaking study of time, risk, and social preferences among 80,000 individuals in 65 countries, Karla Hoff on using lab in field experiments to identify the honor ethic among higher caste villagers in North India, Ryan Enos on measuring racial attitudes, Rachel Glennerster on measuring women’s empowerment, Julian Jamison on how and why to use item count techniques to mitigate social desirability bias, Henry Travers on debiasing estimates of wildlife survival, Amandi Mani on assessing the effect of financial worry on cognitive performance with cell phones, and Sheheryar Banuri on using videos to probe the effect of pro-poor bonuses on doctor’s decisions on which patients to see. My eMBeD co-head Renos Vakis assessed the strengths and weaknesses of World Bank surveys on socio-emotional skills. I discussed the reliability and validity of measurements of social norms with respect to women’s labor force participation in Jordan.
The 2018 Poverty and Shared Prosperity Report shows how poverty is changing and introduces improved ways to monitor our progress toward ending it.
The landscape of extreme poverty is now split in two. While most of the world has seen extreme poverty fall to below 3 percent of the population, Sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing extreme poverty rates affecting more than 40 percent of people. The lamentable distinction of being home to the most people living in extreme poverty has shifted, or will soon shift, from India to Nigeria, symbolizing the increased concentration of poverty in Africa.
Last week, I attended a conference at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. It was BAD, and it was primarily about gender. (By BAD, I of course mean it was about “Behavioral Approaches to Diversity”.) The topic is obviously relevant to World Bank goals, both internally and for our clients, and to the work of the Mind, Behavior, and Development Unit (eMBeD). Here are some selected highlights.
African widows often face considerable disadvantage relative to married women in their first union. How much so depends on the society they live in, with pronounced hardship in some contexts, yet benefits to widows in others. In the absence of effective policies, their situation is likely to depend heavily on the social-cultural norms applying to women following widowhood. In a recent paper, Annamaria Milazzo and I investigate this issue by comparing the well-being (as measured by BMI and rates of underweight) of young (15-49) Nigerian widows and non-widows across Christian and Muslim groups using the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) of 2008 and 2013.
A large body of literature has shown that the outcomes of children are tied to the outcomes of their parents or, in other words, that children face different life prospects based on their family background. But there is no reason to believe that such “persistence” of outcomes is limited to two generations. Social mobility (or lack thereof) depends not just on how parents influence the outcomes of their children, but also on how outcomes persist across multiple generations, from grandparents to grandchildren.
In most economies, parents would like to see their children have a higher standard of living, and with it a better life, than they had themselves. When children are asked, they too tend to consider their parents a natural benchmark to compare their economic progress against (Goldthorpe, 1987; Hoschschild, 2016, Chetty at al., 2017). A simple measure that captures this notion of progress is the percentage of children who managed to surpass their parents, which we will refer to as absolute mobility. Chetty et al. (2017) find that the United States did exceptionally well by this measure for the generations born in the 1940s and 50s, when over 90 percent of children managed to do better than their parents in terms of income. Absolute mobility in the United States has since faded to around 50 percent for the current generation. How has absolute mobility fared elsewhere in the world? In which economies do children have the best chances to improve upon their parents? Are the highest rates of absolute mobility observed in economies that are starting from a low base?