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Multidimensional Child Poverty in Korea: Developing Child-Specific Indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals


This paper aims to examine child poverty in Korea by constructing a multidimensional child poverty index. The Sustainable Development Goals (hereafter SDGs) recommend producing children-specific poverty statistics based on the concept of multidimensional poverty. Responding to such global norms and trends, in Korea, there is an increasing need to define and measure multidimensional poverty among children, focusing on the individual rather than the household as a whole. Drawing on the Poverty and Social Exclusion methodology, we established a Child Deprivation Index and combined it with household income to estimate multidimensional child poverty, using data from the 2013 Korean National Child Survey. The findings show that the number of children in poverty are in fact around 10% of the child population, as measured by material deprivation and income combined, which is two times higher than the official Korean child poverty rate. This indicates that conventional measurements, based only on household income, not only insufficiently identifies poor children, but also excludes more than half of the potential recipients from the social assistance system. In addition, our logit analysis offers strong evidence that deprived children are mostly living in working-poor and single-parent households. These findings lead to the conclusion that support for the working poor should be considered as important child policy agenda.

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  1. 1.

    For example, even though the Ministry of Health and Welfare investigates the poverty status of children through a comprehensive survey of children, the survey is not focused on poor children, but on the entire child population. The approach of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family is from the standpoint of women's policies, such as single-parent family surveys and multicultural family surveys.

  2. 2.

    This survey was conducted based on the legal obligations of the government to conduct nationally representative surveys for child policies every 5 years to understand the status of children’s welfare and development. The survey questionnaires include many questions on child physical and psychological development as well as child deprivations. It was undertaken by the Korean Institute of Health and Social Affairs and commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Welfare in Korea. The authors obtained permission from the national research institute for data analysis.

  3. 3.

    It is interesting that in Korea children aged 9–17 answered the survey themselves. It is different to EU-SILC which is similar in content but is answered by the parent or caregiver. Future research can examine if there are systematic differences in reporting deprivation between children and parents. We know that parents may under-report the extent of deprivation in order to follow social norms as parents (Gabos et al. 2011).

  4. 4.

    If there are more than two children in the household, the survey asked only for the eldest child. The question specifically asks for items and activities only for the designated child in each household. This does not allow analysis for intra household differences, which can be another interesting area for future research.

  5. 5.

    The first stage of the consensual approach asks whether respondents think certain items are necessary, and then asks affordability in the final answer sheet. However, the Korean survey did not ask whether respondents think the items are necessary or whether respondents ‘don’t have necessities because they don’t want them’. It only asked whether respondents own them or not. This can be a limitation to the analysis of material deprivation, because deprivation genuinely can be identified as lacking an item or activity because of economic constraints. However, Townsend constructed a valid and reliable deprivation index with just a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ criteria in the beginning stage (Townsend 1979). We initially drew on Townsend’s original method due to limited data availability. In addition, other research on multidimensional child poverty by UNICEF (De Neubourg et al. 2014; Chzhen et al. 2016) also considers a child deprived if he or she has particular items for other reasons, even though responses were presented into three categories—have; do not have due to affordability; and do not have due to other reasons. The rationale is that children should not be excluded from the goods and services which are important for their well-being and development because of the preferences of their parents, while considering the fact that children do not make decisions or acquire resources by themselves.

  6. 6.

    According to the study (Nam 2012) that compared how different equivalence scales—the OECD original scale, OECD modified scale, and Square root scale—affect the relative poverty rate in Korea, it was suggested that the relative poverty rate (below 60% of median income) was the lowest when the OECD original scale was applied, followed by the OECD modified scale and root square scale which recorded the highest poverty rate. Based on the results, this study applied the OECD modified scale which represents the middle of three equivalence scales.

  7. 7.

    According to the government statistics, 45% of the population in South Korea is living in major cities where population is over 1 million. Another 45% live in small and medium sized city where population is over 100 thousand to 1 million. Rural areas accounts for 10% of the total population in South Korea.


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We are grateful for the valuable advice and inspiration of David Gordon, Christina Pantazis and Eldin Fahmy (University of Bristol). Many thanks to the anonymous reviewers providing useful comments to an earlier draft of this paper.

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Correspondence to Eunju Kim.



Table 6 Reliability test
Fig. 4

Validity test

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Kim, E., Nandy, S. Multidimensional Child Poverty in Korea: Developing Child-Specific Indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals. Child Ind Res 11, 1029–1050 (2018).

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  • Child Poverty
  • Multidimensional Poverty
  • Material Deprivation
  • Korea