‘Measuring Child Poverty and Deprivation’ (Chapter 4 of ‘Global Child Poverty and Well-Being’)


Ten years ago, UNICEF asked the Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research at Bristol University, UK, to produce a scientifically valid and reliable method for measure the extend and depth of child poverty in all the developing regions of the world. The methodology had to be socially and culturally appropriate, age and gender specific and allow for the fact that children’s needs change as they grow and develop. The methodology also needed to be consistent with agreed international definitions of poverty used for policymaking purposes and within the framework provided by international human rights conventions, particularly the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

The resulting methodology to measure child poverty (sometimes referred to as the ‘Bristol’ method by UNICEF) was briefly described by Gordon et al (2003) and was subsequently adopted by UNICEF as a core child poverty measure for the Global Study on Child Poverty and Disparities.

The ‘Bristol’ method was designed to produce meaningful scientific comparisons of child poverty between countries and UNICEF regions. A purpose of this chapter is to show how this methodology can be adapted and applied to produce meaningful and appropriate child poverty analyses within countries. The chapter will also clarify some of the myths and misconceptions that have arisen about the ‘Bristol’ methodology.

This chapter first briefly describes the ‘Bristol’ methodology. This is followed by a discussion of the relative deprivation theory which underlies the methodology and introduces the requirements for scientific valid and reliable measurement. The following section on ‘how not to measure child poverty’ looks at the limitations of three other highly regarded methodologies –

1) The World Bank’s $1 a day PPP method
2) The Wealth Index method
3) The Multidimensional Poverty Index method of Alkire & Foster

The purpose of these critiques is not to revisit ‘old ground’ and repeat technical criticisms which are already well known. This section aims to look at the more profound theoretical problems with these prevalent methodologies which are more rarely discussed and understood.

The final section provides a step by step worked example from Mexico showing multidimensional poverty can be scientifically measured. The paper concludes with a critique of the ‘Bristol’ method and suggests on how it could be improved in future research.

The full chapter is available for download below.

Chapter 4: Measuring Child Poverty and Deprivation (Gordon & Nandy, 2012)

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