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The perils of measuring poverty: Identifying the 'poor' in rural Ethiopia

  • Philippa Bevan
  • Sandra Fullerton Joireman
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    The measurement of poverty in Africa has been pioneered by economists (whose measurements usually apply to income or consumption by households) and grass-root 'participationists' (who tend to use community definitions of household wealth/poverty). These measures are often used in arguments about the causes of poverty and what should be done about it, and these arguments are often more ideological than scientific. In this paper, which comes from a sociological tradition, we focus on the meaning and use of measures of poverty, using data collected in rural Ethiopia from which we have constructed four different measures of poverty, for three different localities. We deconstruct the concept of 'poverty', explore the ways in which the different measures relate to the elements we have isolated, describe the measurements and consider their advantages and disadvantages, and compare their different outcomes in terms of identifying 'the poor' in the three sites. In conclusion, we argue that none of the measures as applied identifies 'the poor' in a convincing way, that our conceptual discussion suggests that this may not be possible in principle, that very great care must be taken in data collection for, and calculation, use and interpretation of, consumption poverty measures in subsistence economies, and that poverty measurers of all persuasions should acknowledge the complexities, reduce the rhetoric, improve the rigour and get 'smart'.

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    Article provided by Taylor & Francis Journals in its journal Oxford Development Studies.

    Volume (Year): 25 (1997)
    Issue (Month): 3 ()
    Pages: 315-343

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    Handle: RePEc:taf:oxdevs:v:25:y:1997:i:3:p:315-343
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