Poverty as a multidimensional concept.

Georgia Casanova, Research Coordinator of the Family International Monitor

In the last decades, the vision of poverty seen as a complex and structured concept is widely accepted and supported by the international literature (to give some examples: Narayan et al., 2000; Atkinson, 2003, 2019; Bourguignon & Chakravarty, 2003; Alkire & Foster, 2011; Ferreira, 2011; Ravallion, 2011; Whelan et al., 2014; World Bank 2017, 2018). But the greater proof of a poverty whose economic aspects interact with other elements such as the educative, social and health-related dimensions derives from daily life practice.

During the last decades, also due to the international economic crises, the political agendas saw an increase in development plans to fight multidimensional poverty (for ex. “Transforming our world: the 2030 agenda for sustainable development” and the “Plan of Action for the 3rd UN Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (2018–2027)”). It is important to highlight that a complete report on the multidimensional nature of poverty does not only deal with its multiple manifestations, but also with their intrinsic interconnections (Atkinson, 2019).

Currently, the debate is still focused on the identification of the dimensions that clarify the concept of poverty and, consequently, on which specific indicators should be used to measure it (Tsui, 2002, Duclos, 2006).

The proposal of the global Multidimensional Poverty Index.

Ever since 2010, the United Nations Development Programme, in collaboration with the University of Oxford, developed the global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI). Through this index, every year, the UN proposes the measurement and the observation of the distribution of multidimensional poverty in the developing regions of the world. The last update was published in July 2020. In this context, it is interesting to analyse its proposed conceptual framework and the main results.

  1. MPI: conceptual framework and methodology

The 2020 global multidimensional poverty index uses the index reviewed in 2018 in the light of the empirical experience carried out during the prior 7 years of research. The revision has been carried out in order to take into account the progress in the availability of data in micro-surveys and, at the same time, to align the index to the SDGs. The need for a methodological and structural update highlights, once again, the complexity and the structure of the conceptual framework of reference.

Ever since its creation in 2010, the global MPI has been using 10 indicators, referred to three weighted dimensions that are also used in the human development index of the UNDP: health, education and standard of living (table 1).

Through the attribution of specific weights to the different indicators, and the weighted average calculation, the MPI calculates a deprivation profile for each person. A person is considered to be poor if he/she is deprived in one third or more of the weighted indicators. Lastly, the MPI of the country is the result of the ratio between the incidence of poverty (percentage of poor people) and the intensity of poverty (average deprivation score of poor individuals).

In 2020, the global Multidimensional Poverty Index includes the data of 107 countries with a different wealth rate. In particular, according to the 2020 economic data of the World Bank, 28 low-income countries, 76 medium-income countries and only 3 high-income countries participate.

  1. MPI 2020: summary of the main results

In 2020, trends of improvement in the conditions of multidimensional poverty stand out in 65 countries, in particular among the lowest-income countries. In particular, India halved the number of people in a situation of multidimensional poverty, mostly children. Despite these good results, the condition of multidimensional poverty remained unaltered in one third of the countries. Furthermore, in 14 countries (mostly Sub-Saharan ones), the absolute number of deprived people has increased, although their national value of multidimensional poverty decreased due to the increase in the population.

The results of the 2020 global MPI report offer other particular elements that require further reflection. A summary of them is included in box 1, postponing any in-depth analysis to the complete report.

The multidimensional poverty index offers interesting ideas that are useful for the active debate on the Family International Monitor. Let us make a short list of them:

First of all, the confirmation of the need for a multidimensional vision of poverty and of the need to widen the group of multidimensional dimensions to be considered in order to guarantee a greater thoroughness and completeness of the definition of a highly complex phenomenon as the one of poverty. Secondly, the MPI report highlights how the trends of multidimensional poverty do not follow income trends, thus highlighting how the topic of poverty is a relevant question also in the countries that are traditionally considered ad “richer”. Lastly, the quantitative, intrinsic and concise approach in the definition of an index offers important perspectives regarding the scenario but, on the other hand, it does not allow a greater in-depth analysis of the topic and of the socio-economic dynamics of the phenomenon. Such considerations strengthen the decisions made throughout the 2020-2021 research path of the FIM on the topic of “Family and Poverty” by proposing a qualitative and multidimensional study model that is wide and articulated, and that aims at observing and understanding in depth the structural elements of the phenomenon, which can also - by using an integrative approach - support the interpretation of the starting points offered by concise quantitative data.


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