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Income Risk, Coping Strategies and Safety Nets

  • Dercon, Stefan

Rural and urban households in developing countries face substantial idiosyncratic and common risk, resulting in high income variability. Households in risky environments have developed sophisticated (ex-ante) risk-management and (ex-post) risk-coping strategies, including self-insurance via savings and informal insurance mechanisms to do so while formal credit and insurance markets appear to contribute only little to reducing income risk and its consequences. Informal credit and insurance, however incomplete, helps to cope with risky incomes. Despite these strategies, vulnerability remains high, and is reflected in fluctuations in consumption. It is clear therefore, that further development of safety nets will be necessary. In this paper, we focus on the opportunities available to households to use risk-management and risk-coping strategies, and on the constraints on their effectiveness. Fluctuations in consumption usually imply relatively high levels of transient poverty. High income risk may also be a cause of persistent poverty. The failure to cope with income risk is not only reflected in household consumption fluctuations but affect nutrition, health and education and contribute to inefficient and unequal intrahousehold allocations. Deaton’s model provides a useful description of the advantages of self-insurance. Policy conclusions may be limited however. In practice, assets are risky, not safe. The covariance of asset values and income due to common shocks makes self-insurance a far less useful strategy than it seems. We quantify the consequences of holding risky assets that are covariate with incomes, using simulations. Access to relatively safe and profitable assets, which might be useful for consumption smoothing, may also be limited. Lumpiness in assets may be a reason why the poor cannot protect themselves easily via assets. Policies that influence asset market risks could be beneficial to households attempting to deal with shocks. Policies could include

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Paper provided by World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER) in its series Working Paper Series with number UNU-WIDER Research Paper DP2002/22.

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Length: 27 pages
Date of creation: 2002
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:unu:wpaper:dp2002-22
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