Measuring and monitoring children’s multidimensional poverty and wellbeing: a human development perspective

Biggeri, Mario (2018). 'Measuring and Monitoring Children's Multidimensional Poverty and Wellbeing: a Human Development Perspective' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Buenos Aires, Argentina 2018.



Measuring and monitoring multidimensional wellbeing and poverty of children is a core issue in current international debate and to target and monitor the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 agenda.

The capability approach is per se a powerful framework for understanding children’s well-being and poverty in terms of capabilities since it forces to think about the complexities that characterize children lives. From the capability approach, child poverty is understood to be the lack of freedom to do and to be what children themselves value and have reason to value.

Applying the capability approach to children, supposed to take into account the necessary dynamic of capabilities according to age. If children’s capabilities have an instrumental impact on future capabilities, probably more than in the adult case, it does not imply that capabilities of a period are totally determinist of capabilities of the following periods. We then need to have a better understanding of the dynamic of capabilities from a theoretical perspective.

An analysis of children capabilities and functionings during life could help us to reveal impediments to a “decent life” cycle at different ages. Biggeri et al. developed the concept of Evolving Capabilities (Biggeri, Ballet, Comim, 2011). The evolving capabilities process tries to capture the dynamics among three components that stand behind capabilities: the capacity/ability concept, the opportunity concept and the agency concept. This dynamic conception of the capability approach can enrich substantially the Sen’s framework (Comim, 2004) especially for analyzing the capabilities of children and their deprivation in time.

There are several studies on child poverty. Nowadays, most relevant and popular analyses on children poverty and well-being are carried out using MODA (Unicef IRC) and MPI (Ophi). Both, although they differ in several methodological details, present a dual cut-off method. Although they produce very interesting results on child poverty, they are less promising are the results related to monitoring for the lack of sensitiveness of both indexes proposed and for the lack of individual monitoring. Several studies have pointed out the need to separate children from their adult nexus when studying poverty and treat them according to their own specificities (For the first empirical analyses at individual level and to Moda and MPI on children see Trani, Biggeri, Mauro (2009), Biggeri, Trani Mauro (2011) and Trani, Biggeri, Mauro, (2013).

The main objectives the paper are two. The first is to explore children capabilities deprivation in the life cycle from a theoretical perspective. The second is to propose a new class of indexes (MSI) to measure and monitor children poverty and life trajectories from a multidimensional standpoint introducing for the first time Child Human Development Index (CHDI) and the Child Human Rights Index (CHRI) i.e. from a theoretical and operative perspective.

In order to properly monitor well-being over time and for all subgroups of a population of interest (including children), a synthesis aggregating different indicators must be a function that satisfies some desirable properties.

First, any change in the situation of any child life considered in the analysis must be captured by the index. This condition, that we refer to as “strict monotonicity”, guarantees that any improvement (worsening) in any indicator observed for any country results in an increase (decrease) of the synthetic score. Second, the function must be continuous. Small changes in the data must result in small changes in the index.

Moreover, a good synthesis should take into account the heterogeneity between accomplishments. The last property introduced is the manageability of the elasticity of substitution rate between sub-indexes, a property entailed in many synthetic indicators based on higher-order means (Biggeri and Mauro 2010; Klugman et al. 2011).

The idea advanced by the MSI (Mauro et al. 2016) is that a full flexibility in the degree of substitutability can be retained by directly linking it to a function of the general level of well-being for each unit. A lower degree of substitutability assigns implicitly a higher relative weight to the lowest score achievements, especially for poor children. This property is implicitly taken into account also by both the CHDI and the CHRI.

In the first section of the paper the children multidimensional poverty is outlined. The second section child’s life trajectories and the life cycle are analysed and theoretically set. In the third section, a new class of indexes of MSI to monitor children life trajectories from a multidimensional perspective is introduced together with the construction of Child Human Development Index (CHDI) and the Child Human Rights Index (CHRI). In the fourth section, a discussion in terms of methods and policy implications is given while in the last section, the final remarks are reported and the new frontiers of research on measurement and analysis of child poverty are given.

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