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The Counting-Based Measurement of Multidimensional Poverty: The Focus on Economic Resources, Inner Capabilities, and Relational Resources in the United States


This paper assesses the Alkire and Foster (AF) approach to measure multidimensional poverty and proposes a ‘dimensional’ approach with economic resources, inner capabilities, and relational resources to account for its conceptual deficits. By measuring poverty in the United States using data from General Social Survey, it shows that, compared to the AF approach, the two-step process of the dimensional approach can provide greater insights into the form and structure of poverty, helping to analyze issues more comprehensively and inform policy decisions better. The relevance of the specific poverty dimensions and indicators and their operationalization are discussed and carried further.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    These are not the focus of this paper. See Alkire and Foster (2007, 2011a, b), Alkire and Santos (2010), and Rippin (2010) for detailed discussions of these properties.

  2. 2.

    This would not be the case with intersections since they require the multidimensional poor to be deprived across all indicators. The tradeoffs of deprivation can be even more important in case of unions, however, as the poor or non-poor status would be substitutable across all indicators. In fact, this would be the case of perfect substitution.

  3. 3.

    It is not entirely new for poverty measurement, however. Wagle (2005, 2008a, b, 2009), for example, applies this approach to measure poverty in Nepal and the United States, where the dimensions are treated separately and then aggregated to identify the multidimensional poverty status. While he uses factor analysis and fuzzy set approaches to ascertain poverty status and the degree of poverty across dimensions, the latter in particular is methodologically close to the AF approach.

  4. 4.

    Sen’s (1992: 39) consistent line of writing has been that “relevant functionings can vary from such elementary things as being adequately nourished, being in good health, avoiding escapable morbidity or premature mortality, etc., to more complex achievements such as being happy, having self-respect, taking part in the life of the community, and so on.”

  5. 5.

    Even the famous quote that Sen (1981, 1987) invokes of Adam Smith in almost every discussion of poverty about the “inability to appear in public without shame” relates poverty clearly with the broader community, placing high values on whether or not one can effectively engage in the community.

  6. 6.

    While the data are available for three more rounds of the survey since 2004, this particular dataset is chosen for its comprehensive focus especially on the sociopolitical characteristics of families. In fact, the survey includes several topical modules in addition to regular portions of the questionnaire in each round and the rounds since 2004 have focused on modules other than sociopolitical activities making it impossible to examine this form of poverty for later years.

  7. 7.

    While educational attainment and degree are both education variables, there are important differences in their measurement (r = 0.85). These differences can be for a number of reasons including inconsistencies in measurement or meanings and the formal degrees received (such as high school diploma) versus the years of schooling. The use of multiple education indicators may increase the weight assigned to the role of education in measuring inner capabilities. But their use will help more fully capture educational attainment.

  8. 8.

    Occupations associated with this score include select sales workers, private household cooks, industrial machinery repairers, glaziers, food batch-makers, select machine operators, truck drivers, and construction trade helpers. Immediately below these are such occupations as garbage collectors, taxi drivers, mining occupations, carpenter apprentices, ground-keepers and gardeners, and elevator operators. While these occupations may provide large economic payoffs, their prestige levels are relatively low that the occupants are likely to deprive of the self-respect they need to function with a decent social status and recognition.

  9. 9.

    This is using equal weights which are reasonable within the dimension itself. Also, this procedure does not apply to identifying poverty in economic resources given the involvement of a single indicator.

  10. 10.

    This does not include the headcount ratios for economic resources due to its single-indicator measurement.

  11. 11.

    The headcount ratio for Asians is actually higher than the national average from the AF approach, something that may have depended on the role of relational resources via the two-step process.

  12. 12.

    This finding is bit different from those from other exercises showing capability playing a more central role due especially to different methodologies (Wagle 2008a, b).


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Correspondence to Udaya R. Wagle.



See Tables 4 and 5.

Table 4 List of variables
Table 5 Deprivation cutoffs and poverty rates by dimensions and indicators

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Wagle, U.R. The Counting-Based Measurement of Multidimensional Poverty: The Focus on Economic Resources, Inner Capabilities, and Relational Resources in the United States. Soc Indic Res 115, 223–240 (2014).

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  • Multidimensional poverty
  • Income
  • Capability
  • Social inclusion
  • United States