IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

On the Relevance of Relative Poverty for Developing Countries


  • Christopher Garroway


  • Juan Ramón de Laiglesia



Poverty is typically measured in different ways in developing and advanced countries. The majority of developing countries measure poverty in absolute terms, using a poverty line determined by the monetary cost of a predetermined basket of goods. In contrast, most analyses of poverty in advanced countries, including the majority of OECD countries and Eurostat, measure poverty in relative terms, setting the poverty line as a share of the average or median standard of living in a country. This difference in how social outcomes are measured makes it difficult to share experiences in social policy design and implementation. This paper argues that policy analysis should rely on both relative poverty – measured as a share of the median standard of living – and absolute measures. As countries reduce extreme absolute poverty, concerns of social inclusion, better represented by relative poverty lines, become increasingly relevant. Anchoring the poverty line to median welfare makes the poverty line dependent on distributional parameters beyond the mean, thus allowing for poverty lines that differ across countries with the same level of income per capita. The paper derives and presents relative poverty headcount ratios from publicly available grouped data for 114 countries. An examination of the trends in absolute and relative poverty in Brazil, China and the United States uncovers commonalities that are not apparent if the analysis focuses on national poverty lines or different concepts across countries. Les pays développés et les pays en développement mesurent en général la pauvreté de façon différente. La plupart des pays en développement utilise des mesures absolues de la pauvreté, à l’aide d’un seuil de pauvreté défini par la valeur monétaire d’un panier de biens prédéterminé. Par contre, la plupart des analyses de la pauvreté dans des pays développés, y compris dans la plupart des pays de l’OCDE et des institutions telles que Eurostat utilisent des mesures relatives de la pauvreté, avec un seuil de pauvreté définie par une proportion fixe du niveau de vie moyen ou médian dans un pays. Ces différences de mesure rendent plus difficile le partage d’expériences en formulation et mise en oeuvre de politiques sociales. Ce document soutient que l’analyse des politiques publiques devrait reposer sur en même temps sur des mesures absolues et relatives, ces dernières se rapportant à une proportion du niveau de vie médian. Les questions d’inclusion sociale, qui sont mieux prises en compte par des lignes de pauvreté relatives, voient leur importance croitre au fur et à mesure que les pays réduisent la pauvreté absolue. Du fait de l’ancrage du seuil de pauvreté à la médiane de la mesure de bien-être, le seuil de pauvreté dépend de paramètres de la distribution au-delà du niveau de vie moyen, ce qui permet aux seuils de pauvreté d’être différents pour des pays avec le même revenu par habitant. Le document présente des taux de pauvreté relative calculés à partir de données disponibles au public pour 114 pays. Une analyse des tendances des mesures absolue et relative de la pauvreté pour le Brésil, la Chine et les États-Unis relève des points communs qui demeurent cachés si l’analyse se concentre uniquement sur les seuils de pauvreté nationaux ou sur des concepts de mesure propres à chaque pays.

Suggested Citation

  • Christopher Garroway & Juan Ramón de Laiglesia, 2012. "On the Relevance of Relative Poverty for Developing Countries," OECD Development Centre Working Papers 314, OECD Publishing.
  • Handle: RePEc:oec:devaaa:314-en

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Martin Ravallion, 2016. "Toward better global poverty measures," The Journal of Economic Inequality, Springer;Society for the Study of Economic Inequality, vol. 14(2), pages 227-248, June.
    2. Martin Ravallion & Shaohua Chen, 2013. "A Proposal for Truly Global Poverty Measures," Global Policy, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 4(3), pages 258-265, September.
    3. repec:bla:sajeco:v:84:y:2016:i:4:p:624-635 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Ravallion,Martin & Chen,Shaohua, 2017. "Welfare-consistent global poverty measures," Policy Research Working Paper Series 8170, The World Bank.

    More about this item


    mesure de la pauvreté; pauvreté et développement; pauvreté relative; poverty in developing countries; poverty measurement; relative poverty;

    JEL classification:

    • I32 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Measurement and Analysis of Poverty
    • O10 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - General
    • Y10 - Miscellaneous Categories - - Data: Tables and Charts - - - Data: Tables and Charts

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:oec:devaaa:314-en. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.