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The dynamics of poverty : why some people escape from poverty and others don't - an African case study

Listed author(s):
  • Grootaert, Christiaan
  • Kanbur, Ravi
  • Gi-Taik Oh

Empirical investigations of poverty in developing countries tend to focus on the incidence of poverty at a particular point in time. If the incidence of poverty increases, however, there is no information about how many new poor have joined the existing poor and how many people have escaped poverty. Yet this distinction is of crucial policy importance. The chronically poor may need programs to enhance their human and physical capital endowments. Invalids and the very old may need permanent (targeted) transfers. The temporarily poor, on the other hand, may best be helped with programs that complement their own resources and help them"bridge"a difficult period. Results from analyses of panel surveys show significant mobility into and out of poverty and reveal a dynamism of the poor that policy should stimulate. Understanding what separates chronic from temporary poverty requires knowing which characteristics differentiate those who escape poverty from those who don't. In earlier work, the authors found that region of residence and socioeconomic status were important factors. In this paper they investigate the role of other household characteristics, especially such asset endowments as human and physical capital, in the case of Cote d'Ivoire. In urban areas of Cote d'Ivoire, human capital is the most important endowment explaining welfare changes over time. Households with well-educated members suffered less loss of welfare than other households. What seems to have mattered, though, is the skills learned through education, not the diplomas obtained. Diplomas may even have worked against some households in having oriented workers too much toward a formal labor market in a time when employment growth came almost entirely from small enterprises. In rural areas, physical capital - especially the amount of land and farm equipment owned - mattered most. Smallholders were more likely to suffer welfare declines. Households with diversified sources of income managed better, especially if they had an important source of nonfarm income. In both rural and urban areas, larger households suffered greater declines in welfare and households that got larger were unable to increase income enough to maintain their former welfare level. Households whose heads worked in the public sector maintained welfare better than other households, a finding that confirms earlier observations. The results also suggest that government policies toward certain regions or types of household can outweigh the effects of household endowments. Surprisingly, migrant non-Ivorian households tended to be better at preventing welfare losses than Ivorian households, while households headed by women did better than those headed by men (after controlling for differences in or changes in endowment). The implications for policymakers? First, education is associated with higher welfare levels and helps people cope better with economic decline. Second, targeting the social safety net to larger households - possibly through the schools, toreach children - is justified in periods of decline. Third, smallholders might be targeted in rural areas, and ways found to encourage diversification of income there.

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Paper provided by The World Bank in its series Policy Research Working Paper Series with number 1499.

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Date of creation: 31 Aug 1995
Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:1499
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  1. Deaton,Angus & Muellbauer,John, 1980. "Economics and Consumer Behavior," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521296762, March.
  2. Glewwe, Paul, 1991. "Investigating the determinants of household welfare in Cote d'Ivoire," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 35(2), pages 307-337, April.
  3. Alderman, Harold & Garcia, Marito, 1993. "Poverty, household food security, and nutrition in rural Pakistan:," Research reports 96, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
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