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Smoke and mirrors? The science of poverty measurement and its application

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  • Julian May

Abstract

Measures of poverty are much used, but also much criticised as having limited value in debates on public resource allocation. Some argue that the measures are too conservative and do little more than complicate important issues of inequality and injustice. However, poverty measurement can be sensitive to these concerns if grounded in the field's well-developed theoretical foundation. In South Africa, poverty measures over more than 50 years have consistently taken into account distributional issues and the causes and implications of deprivation, and most South African analyses of poverty have recognised and incorporated the multi-dimensional nature of poverty. Recognising different perceptions of aggregation, time horizon and the role of states and markets is perhaps more important than methodology when assessing what poverty measures can contribute. With proper theorisation, and attention paid to the purpose of poverty diagnostics, measurement is more than sleight-of-hand and can provide both a tool for advocacy and a means to implement policies that promote greater social justice.

Suggested Citation

  • Julian May, 2012. "Smoke and mirrors? The science of poverty measurement and its application," Development Southern Africa, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 29(1), pages 63-75, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:deveza:v:29:y:2012:i:1:p:63-75 DOI: 10.1080/0376835X.2012.645641
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Marisa von Fintel & Asmus Zoch, 2015. "The dynamics of child poverty in South Africa between 2008 and 2012: An analysis using the National Income Dynamics Study," Working Papers 05/2015, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.

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