Measures of Urban Poverty

Council researchers are supporting efforts to measure and reduce urban poverty by assessing its impact on health, education, and nutrition.

The Issue

Worldwide, the urban poor have extremely limited access to essential services such as water, sanitation, electricity, and healthcare. As a result, being poor—or simply living in a poor neighborhood—has a negative effect that goes beyond a lack of economic resources. Living in poverty affects health, nutrition, and educational and employment prospects. Policymakers need to understand the breadth of urban poverty and the depth of its human impact so they are able—and motivated—to address this complex set of problems.

The Progress

Since 1999, the Population Council has highlighted the global phenomenon of urbanization and urban poverty. Council researchers have developed multivariate models drawing on data from more than 50 countries from both the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) and the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS). The models combine demographic data and information on living standards and health to assess the impact of urban poverty on children’s education and nutrition, child survival, and women’s reproductive health.

By examining and comparing measures of disadvantage at the household and neighborhood levels, researchers have shown that urban poverty may not be as spatially concentrated (i.e., in slums) as has often been assumed. One study of urban India found that in 2005 more than 80% of all urban households officially classified as poor lived in nonslum neighborhoods. In addition, Council research has shown that both household and neighborhood poverty have negative effects on reproductive health and children’s schooling—even relatively affluent families suffer the ill effects of living in a poor area.

And in southern Africa, the Council and partners use detailed poverty mapping data to examine the role that infrastructure, geography, and bio-physical factors (rainfall, soil quality, elevation, disease prevalence) play in both urban and rural poverty and inequality.

The Impact

The 2003 publication of the Council’s initial findings, Cities Transformed: Demographic Change and Its Implications in the Developing World (Washington, DC: National Academies Press), put urbanization—and urban poverty—on the global agenda in a bigger way than ever before. Since then, Council insights into the measurement and human impact of human poverty have continued to inform efforts to improve living standards and outcomes in cities around the world.

Principal Investigator

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