TutorChase logo
Decorative notebook illustration
IB DP Economics Study Notes

4.8.4 Poverty Measures

In this section, we explore the various instruments and methods applied to measure poverty, concentrating on the Poverty Line, Poverty Gap, and the Multidimensional Poverty Index. Understanding these mechanisms is vital for forming effective economic policies and strategies aimed at poverty reduction and sustainable development.

Poverty Line

The Poverty Line is a pivotal concept, representing a financial threshold below which individuals or households are defined to be in absolute poverty, unable to afford basic needs such as food, shelter, and clothing.

Definition and Importance

  • Represents the minimal level of income required to maintain a basic standard of living in a particular country.
  • Essential for identifying those in need of support and for formulating poverty reduction strategies.
An infographic illustrating extreme poverty in selected countries

Image courtesy of statista

Calculating the Poverty Line

  • Typically determined by establishing the cost of a basic basket of goods and services essential for survival and setting the poverty line at this cost.
  • Adjustments are made to reflect the variations in cost of living and household sizes across different regions and countries.

Implications and Limitations

  • A crucial tool for policy formulation and impact assessment.
  • However, its emphasis on monetary aspects means it often neglects the multifaceted nature of poverty, overlooking deprivations in education, healthcare, and overall living conditions.
  • In places where subsistence production is prevalent, reliance on income or consumption data can lead to distorted representations of well-being.

Poverty Gap

The Poverty Gap is another instrumental measure, illustrating the average shortfall of the total population from the poverty line. This measure provides a more detailed representation of the severity of poverty.

Definition and Insights

  • Represents the average amount by which family income falls below the poverty line, providing insights into the depth of poverty within a population.
  • A wider poverty gap indicates a higher level of income disparity and greater intensity of poverty.
Graphs illustrating the poverty gap

Image courtesy of slideserve

Calculation and Application

  • Calculated by summing up all the shortfalls of families below the poverty line and then dividing by the number of families in the population.
  • Essential for evaluating the effectiveness of anti-poverty programs and for estimating the resources needed to alleviate poverty.


  • Similar to the Poverty Line, the Poverty Gap also predominantly focuses on monetary aspects and fails to account for other dimensions of poverty such as lack of access to essential services and resources.

Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI)

The Multidimensional Poverty Index is a comprehensive metric, capturing the severe deprivations each person faces concurrently in education, health, and living standards, providing a holistic view of poverty.

An infographic illustrating the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) 2018

Image courtesy of OPHI

Definition and Components

  • MPI assesses the nature and intensity of poverty, considering multiple deprivations experienced in various aspects of well-being.
  • It incorporates three equally weighted dimensions:
    • Health: Based on nutrition and child mortality rates.
    • Education: Involves years of schooling and school attendance.
    • Living Standards: Evaluated using indicators like access to cooking fuel, sanitation, water, electricity, and housing condition.

Calculation and Benefits

  • Computed by multiplying the incidence of poverty by the average intensity of poverty across the poor.
  • Provides a detailed ‘micro-level’ picture of poverty, enabling better-targeted interventions, effective resource allocation, and is sensitive to the impact of policies.

Application and Critiques

  • Used extensively by UNDP and OPHI to compare poverty within and across countries.
  • However, it might not encompass every aspect of poverty, and there can be disagreements over the weights assigned to each dimension.
  • Data availability and quality can be major challenges, especially in low-income countries, affecting the accuracy and reliability of the MPI.

Comparisons and Interconnections between Measures

  • While the Poverty Line serves as a rudimentary gauge, primarily based on monetary aspects, it does not convey the depth or multidimensionality of poverty.
  • The Poverty Gap expands upon this by depicting not just the incidence but also the intensity of poverty, illustrating the average shortfall from the poverty line.
  • The Multidimensional Poverty Index then provides a comprehensive portrayal of poverty, reflecting the various deprivations that people experience simultaneously.

Policy Implications and Applications

  • Employing a comprehensive approach, integrating insights from all three measures, is crucial to understand the scope, depth, and nature of poverty comprehensively.
  • Specific and Tailored Interventions: The multifaceted nature of poverty requires policies to be tailored to address specific deprivations, factoring in income and consumption levels.
  • Consistent Monitoring and Rigorous Evaluation are indispensable for ensuring the success of poverty reduction policies, allowing for refinements and adaptations to be made, ensuring sustainable development and equitable well-being.

Application to Economic Studies and Policies

  • The thorough understanding and correct application of these measures in economic studies are vital for designing effective policies and interventions to address poverty.
  • By integrating these varied measures, a nuanced and multidimensional perspective on poverty can be developed, enabling policymakers to address the root causes of poverty and to design interventions that are holistic and sustainable.

Importance in Sustainable Development

  • Sustainable development goals are intertwined with poverty reduction strategies; hence, accurate measurement of poverty is crucial for achieving sustainability in development.
  • Implementing appropriate poverty reduction strategies, informed by these measures, is essential for achieving overall economic growth and development, ensuring that benefits are equitably distributed, and enhancing the quality of life for all.

Understanding the implications and limitations of these poverty measures is crucial for the development of effective and inclusive policies and strategies aimed at poverty reduction and sustainable development. The integration of insights from these measures can enable the creation of a holistic approach to poverty alleviation, focusing on both monetary and non-monetary aspects of well-being.


The MPI differs from the HDI as it exclusively focuses on multiple dimensions of poverty, providing a detailed view of deprivations in health, education, and living standards within a population. While both are multidimensional, the HDI is more oriented towards assessing overall human development, measuring life expectancy, education, and per capita income levels. The MPI, on the other hand, dives deeper into the intricacies of poverty, identifying various deprivations people experience concurrently, offering a comprehensive picture of poverty which is pivotal for effective policy formulation and poverty alleviation.

Yes, the MPI can be adapted and utilised at a local level to design community-specific interventions. Localised versions of the MPI can be developed to incorporate indicators that are particularly relevant to the specific needs and conditions of a community, allowing for a more nuanced understanding of local poverty dynamics. By doing so, local governments, NGOs, and community organisations can identify specific areas of deprivation and design targeted interventions and strategies that address the unique needs and challenges faced by the community, ensuring more effective and sustainable poverty alleviation outcomes.

The Poverty Line is frequently criticised because it primarily focuses on income and overlooks multiple other dimensions of poverty such as lack of education, healthcare, and poor living conditions. It offers a simplistic representation of poverty, relying on a single monetary threshold, which might not accurately reflect the diverse and complex nature of poverty. Improvements can be made by adopting a more multidimensional approach to measuring poverty, like incorporating indicators related to health, education, and living standards, ensuring a more comprehensive and accurate reflection of people’s living conditions and deprivations.

International organisations utilise the MPI to create developmental policies that are both precise and comprehensive. By analysing the various dimensions and indicators within the MPI, these organisations can identify the specific needs and deprivations of different population groups, allowing for the formulation of targeted interventions. The data provided by the MPI inform decisions on resource allocation, priority setting, and strategy development, enabling the creation of more effective and context-specific developmental programmes aimed at alleviating the multiple facets of poverty that the populations face.

Understanding the Poverty Gap allows governments to ascertain the depth of poverty and design more effective poverty alleviation strategies. It offers insights into the average shortfall of the income of poor people from the poverty line, highlighting the intensity of poverty, which is crucial for formulating tailored, responsive interventions. By analysing the Poverty Gap, governments can allocate resources and support where they are most needed, focusing on the most deprived sections of the population, and thus crafting policies that are more likely to reduce both the incidence and intensity of poverty effectively.

Practice Questions

Evaluate the effectiveness and limitations of the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) as a measure of poverty compared to the traditional Poverty Line.

The Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) is considerably more effective than the traditional Poverty Line as it considers various deprivations in health, education, and living standards, offering a holistic view of poverty. It enables precise policy targeting and reflects the multifaceted nature of poverty, facilitating the formulation of comprehensive poverty alleviation strategies. However, its limitations lie in the subjective assignment of weights to different dimensions and the availability and reliability of data, especially in low-income countries. In contrast, the Poverty Line, focusing mainly on income levels, provides a simpler, clear cut-off but lacks the depth and breadth in illustrating the extent and multifaceted nature of poverty, thereby possibly leading to inadequate policy responses.

Explain how the Poverty Gap contributes to our understanding of poverty and how it might inform economic policy more effectively than solely relying on the Poverty Line.

The Poverty Gap enriches our understanding of poverty by depicting not only the incidence but also the intensity of poverty, showing the average shortfall from the Poverty Line. This insight is vital as it reflects the depth of poverty and the extent of income inequality, thereby enabling the creation of more nuanced and targeted economic policies. The information gleaned from the Poverty Gap allows policymakers to allocate resources more effectively and design interventions that address the specific needs of those living in poverty. In comparison, solely relying on the Poverty Line may lead to oversimplified and inadequate policy solutions due to its one-dimensional focus on income levels.

Dave avatar
Written by: Dave
Cambridge University - BA Hons Economics

Dave is a Cambridge Economics graduate with over 8 years of tutoring expertise in Economics & Business Studies. He crafts resources for A-Level, IB, & GCSE and excels at enhancing students' understanding & confidence in these subjects.

Hire a tutor

Please fill out the form and we'll find a tutor for you.

1/2 About yourself
Still have questions?
Let's get in touch.