Poverty and the economic transition : how do changes in economies of scale affect poverty rates for different households?
Much attention has been paid to the relative vulnerability of two well-defined household groups during the transition. Some observers argue that old-age pensioner households have been relatively protected because of a less steep decline in real pensions compared with wages in most transition economies. By contrast, households with young children are believed to have experienced a substantial decline in living standards under reform and show strikingly higher rates of measured poverty than pensioner households. But others argue that the elderly have suffered more than the young during the transition. Can these conflicting viewpoints about the relatively poverty of old and young households be arbitrated? The authors show that strong (though implicit) assumptions underpin certain poverty comparisons. Notably, using a per capita measure of individual welfare assume that there are no economies of scale in household consumption, in the sense that the per capita cost of reaching a specific level of welfare does not fall as household size increases. Relaxing that assumption could affect comparisons, showing higher poverty rates among the elderly because their households tend to be smaller than the households containing children. Even the nature of the transition has implications for economies of scale. The relative cost of housing and other goods and services with at least some public-good characteristics has risen rapidly. These relative price shifts hit small households particularly hard, because a greater share of their expenditures goes to public and quasi-public goods. But transition economies have also experienced big increases in the relative prices of goods and services consumed largely by children, such as kindergarten and other education services. These increases affect younger households more. Since there is no accepted way to establish the true extent of economies of scale in a given country, the question can't be answered exactly. But clearly a small departure from a per capita measure may be enough in some cases to overturn the conventional relative ranking of poverty headcounts: poverty among the elderly may then turn out to be worse than among children.
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