Économie et Statistique n° 383-384-385 - 2005Approaches to Poverty: the Test of International Comparisons
Low incomes, limited consumption and poor well-being: Statistical approaches to poverty put to the test of international comparisons
The statistical approach to poverty poses conceptual and measurement problems, which are exacerbated when international comparisons endeavour to compare highly diverse societies. National definitions are far from uniform. The English-speaking world and the Eastern European countries tend to use measurements based on the capacity to purchase more or less variable shopping baskets an approach that is often, but improperly called absolute. Western Europe traditionally takes a relative approach. The fact that most of the countries adopt a monetary poverty concept does not mean that the definitions based on being deprived in terms of consumption or finding it hard to balance the budget should be overlooked. Each approach has its strengths and weaknesses, and each is based on normative assumptions corresponding to societal choices, political choices and implicit social norms. The combined use of several different approaches is the best way to describe the complex phenomenon of poverty without oversimplifying it. In all the countries, the populations thus defined have a common core, but differ widely.