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Counting the world’s poor: problems and possible solutions

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  • Angus Deaton

    (Princeton University)

Abstract

The World Bank prepares and publishes estimates of the number of poor people in the world. While everyone knows that these numbers should be taken with a pinch of salt, the numbers are arguably important. In an institution where the reduction of poverty is the paramount objective, some overall yardstick of progress (or the lack of it) is required. The numbers are frequently quoted by politicians and by leaders of international organizations, including the Bank itself, who believe the numbers are effective for advocacy. Indeed, there is a long history of studies of poverty mobilizing support among the non-poor for anti-poverty policies. So it is important to know whether the world and national poverty counts are sound enough to support these uses. As recent discussions have made clear, the apparent lack of poverty reduction in the face of historically high rates of economic growth, both in the world as a whole, and in specific countries (most notably India), is providing fuel for the argument that economic growth does little to reduce poverty. How confident can we be that the data actually support these inferences? Are the changes in the poverty counts sufficiently well-measured to support conclusions about growth and poverty reduction? Should the World Bank stand ready to be judged by its success in reducing the current measures of world or even national poverty? If not, can better data collection or better methodologies improve the numbers?

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Research Program in Development Studies. in its series Working Papers with number 212.

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Date of creation: Dec 2000
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Handle: RePEc:pri:rpdevs:deaton_worlds_poor

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Cited by:
  1. Azam, Jean-Paul, 2004. "Poverty and Growth in the WAEMU after the 1994 Devaluation," Working Paper Series UNU-WIDER Research Paper , World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
  2. Svedberg, Peter, 2003. "World Income Distribution: Which Way?," Seminar Papers 724, Stockholm University, Institute for International Economic Studies.
  3. Katsushi Imai & Raghav Gaiha, 2003. "Millennium Development Goals, Agricultural Growth and Openness," Economics Series Working Papers 161, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  4. James E. Foster & Miguel Székely, 2001. "¿Es el crecimiento económico bueno para los pobres? Seguimiento del ingreso bajo con medias generales," Research Department Publications 4270, Inter-American Development Bank, Research Department.
  5. Agenor, Pierre-Richard, 2004. "Unemployment - poverty trade-offs," Policy Research Working Paper Series 3297, The World Bank.
  6. Ann Harrison, 2007. "Globalization and Poverty," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number harr06-1.
  7. Adams, Richard H. Jr., 2003. "Economic growth, inequality, and poverty : findings from a new data set," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2972, The World Bank.
  8. James E. Foster & Miguel Székely, 2008. "Is Economic Growth Good For The Poor? Tracking Low Incomes Using General Means," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 49(4), pages 1143-1172, November.
  9. John Gibson & Susan Olivia, 2002. "An Illustration of the Average Time Measure of Poverty," Working Papers in Economics 02/04, University of Waikato, Department of Economics.
  10. Javier Ruiz-Castillo Ucelay, 2005. "Relative And Absolute Poverty. The Case Of México, 1992-2004," Economics Working Papers we061103, Universidad Carlos III, Departamento de Economía.

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