Adaptation, subjective wellbeing and multidimensional poverty among children and young people in peru

Clausen, Jhonatan (2018). 'Adaptation, Subjective Wellbeing and Multidimensional Poverty Among Children and Young People in Peru' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Buenos Aires, Argentina 2018.


The hypothesis of ‘adaptive preferences’ is one of the central arguments behind Amartya Sen’s criticism to income and utility as relevant informational spaces to evaluate human advantage/disadvantage (1984, 1985, 1992, 1999). According to such hypothesis, people’s preferences are not static, but they are influenced by social conditions (Nussbaum, 2011) and individuals could modify them in order to avoid wanting what is beyond their possibilities to accomplish (due, for instance, to their poverty situation or to the different kinds of exclusion that they experiment). Adaptation could then work as a psychological resource to reduce the level of dissatisfaction or subjective ill-being produced by the cognitive dissonance (Festinger, 1975) generated by the gap between the kind of life that one would like to live and the life that one actually lives (Pereira, 2007). As a consequence, people who experiment significant deprivations would seem to “have reconciled themselves with their lot and seem ‘grateful for small mercies’” (Alkire, 2006: 503).


The consequences of the potential empirical validity of the hypothesis of adaptive preferences are significant. On the one hand, the approaches for evaluating human advantage based only on utility (understood as preference satisfaction or evaluation of mental states) or other subjective measures would appear as unreliable alternatives to reflect the situation of what people could effectively do and be. Then, assessing wellbeing relying mainly in subjective elements (as, for example, in how people feel about their current status) could hide situations of severe deprivation. On the other hand, this situation could also have dynamic consequences, eroding the ability of people to aspire to different and more advantageous ways of life. Therefore, as has been pointed out by Pereira (2007) and Perova and Vakis (2012), verifying the hypothesis of adaptive preferences could have consequences even on the effectives of social policies oriented to expand opportunities for vulnerable groups of the population.


The aim of this research is to test the hypothesis of adaptive preferences among children and young people in Peru within a framework of multidimensional poverty analysis. The longitudinal dataset used in this research has been selected from the waves 1, 2, 3 and 4 (period from 2006 to 2013) of the panel data survey collected as part of the ‘Young Lives’ research project in Peru.


The methodological strategy followed in this research has 2 main stages. First, using the methodology of identification and aggregation of Alkire and Foster (2011), we develop both a comprehensive multidimensional poverty measure (including 10 age group-relevant dimensions for the individual and their households: education, health, nutrition, communication, security, exposure to catastrophic events, social connectedness, shelter, basic services and employment) and a multidimensional measure of subjective wellbeing partially based on the proposal of dimensions of Samman (2007) that combines domains of subjective wellbeing with elements of the Self-Determination Theory (Ryan and Deci, 2000). Second, following a similar approach to Samman y Santos (2013), and Salas and Vigorito (2017), we estimate a set econometric models with panel data (which allows us to control for the unobservable heterogeneity among individuals) that show the association between a measure of subjective wellbeing (t) and multidimensional poverty status both on the same period (t) and on the previous period (t-1). Specifically, we estimate two general sets of models according to the measure of subjective wellbeing used. The first group (estimated using order-logit regressions) operationalizes subjective wellbeing relying on a single indicator of subjective assessment of life based on a Cantril ladder life scale, while the second group (estimated using a Tobit regressions) adopts a more complex measure of multidimensional subjective wellbeing partially based on the proposal of Samman (2007) and composed by the aforementioned indicator of subjective assessment, an indicator of autonomy and an indicator of competence. In all the estimations we also control for other characteristic of the individuals and their households as gender, ethnicity, area of residence, among others.   

The results of this research will contribute to increase the relatively scarce stock of evidence regarding the hypothesis of adapting preferences in low and middle-income countries. Also, it is expected to provide elements to assess the empirical validity of one on the central claims of the capability approach. Finally, from a public policy perspective, it could provide evidence of the importance of complementing traditional social protection programmes (as, for instance, conditional cash transfer schemes) with other kinds of enabling psychosocial interventions targeted to the children and young people in multidimensional poverty.

Keywords: adaptive preferences, multidimensional poverty, young and children


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