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Relative or absolute poverty in the US and EU? The battle of the rates


  • Notten, Geranda
  • Neubourg, Chris de


US poverty is much higher than poverty in Europe when a relative poverty measure is used. Using an absolute poverty measurement method, the picture looks different: poverty in some European countries is higher. This paper estimates poverty rates for all the countries of the (old) EU and the USA applying the official measurement methods of the United States (absolute) and the European Union (relative) to all the countries. The differences in poverty levels, both in time and between the 16 countries are analysed, identifying the various sources for the variance in the figures. Using annual data of the EU and the US from 1994 to 2001, we illustrate how some differences in poverty levels are inherent to the choice for an absolute or a relative approach, while other differences are related to aspects common to both absolute and relative poverty measurement but working out differently depending on the estimation method used. The results of our analysis point out that using a single figure is often misleading.

Suggested Citation

  • Notten, Geranda & Neubourg, Chris de, 2007. "Relative or absolute poverty in the US and EU? The battle of the rates," MPRA Paper 5313, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 15 May 2007.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:5313

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Foster, James & Greer, Joel & Thorbecke, Erik, 1984. "A Class of Decomposable Poverty Measures," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 52(3), pages 761-766, May.
    2. Hulme, David & Shepherd, Andrew, 2003. "Conceptualizing Chronic Poverty," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 31(3), pages 403-423, March.
    3. Atkinson, Tony & Cantillon, Bea & Marlier, Eric & Nolan, Brian, 2002. "Social Indicators: The EU and Social Inclusion," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199253494.
    4. Edward O'Boyle, 1999. "Toward an Improved Definition of Poverty," Review of Social Economy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 57(3), pages 281-301.
    5. Peter Gottschalk & Timothy M. Smeeding, 1997. "Cross-National Comparisons of Earnings and Income Inequality," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 35(2), pages 633-687, June.
    6. Ravallion, Martin & Chen, Shaohua, 2003. "Measuring pro-poor growth," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 78(1), pages 93-99, January.
    7. Daniel Feenberg & Elisabeth Coutts, 1993. "An introduction to the TAXSIM model," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 12(1), pages 189-194.
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    Cited by:

    1. Notten, Geranda & de Neubourg, Chris, 2007. "The policy relevance of absolute and relative poverty headcounts: What's in a number?," MPRA Paper 4668, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. Francisco Azpitarte, 2010. "Measuring poverty using both income and wealth: A cross-country comparison between the U.S. and Spain," Working Papers 153, ECINEQ, Society for the Study of Economic Inequality.
    3. Martin, Megan & Caminada, Koen, 2009. "Welfare reform in the United States. A descriptive policy analysis," MPRA Paper 20139, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    4. Notten, Geranda & Neubourg, Chris de, 2007. "Poverty in Europe and the USA: Exchanging official measurement methods," MPRA Paper 4669, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    5. Rebecca M. Blank, 2008. "Presidential address: How to improve poverty measurement in the United States," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 27(2), pages 233-254.
    6. Vandeninden, Frieda, 2012. "A Simulation of Social Pensions in Europe," MERIT Working Papers 008, United Nations University - Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (MERIT).
    7. Francisco Azpitarte, 2014. "Measuring Poverty using both Income and Wealth: A Cross-Country Comparison between the U.S. and Spain," LWS Working papers 18, LIS Cross-National Data Center in Luxembourg.
    8. Caminada, Koen & Goudswaard, Kees & Koster, Ferry, 2010. "Social income transfers and poverty alleviation in OECD countries," MPRA Paper 20733, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    9. Sachverständigenrat zur Begutachtung der Gesamtwirtschaftlichen Entwicklung (ed.), 2007. "Das Erreichte nicht verspielen. Jahresgutachten 2007/08," Annual Economic Reports / Jahresgutachten, German Council of Economic Experts / Sachverständigenrat zur Begutachtung der gesamtwirtschaftlichen Entwicklung, volume 127, number 200708.
    10. Timothy M. Smeeding, 2009. "New comparative measures of income, material deprivation, and well-being," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 28(4), pages 745-752.
    11. Caminada, Koen & Goudswaard, Kees, 2009. "Social expenditure and poverty reduction in the EU15 and other OECD countries," MPRA Paper 20138, University Library of Munich, Germany.

    More about this item


    poverty; absolute; relative; United States; European Union;

    JEL classification:

    • I32 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Measurement and Analysis of Poverty
    • H55 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Social Security and Public Pensions
    • H53 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Government Expenditures and Welfare Programs

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