n South African Actuarial Journal - Poverty and inequality in South Africa and the world

Volume 7, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1680-2179


This article begins with a discussion of various definitions and concepts of poverty and inequality. It then distinguishes between objective and subjective concepts of poverty, temporary versus chronic poverty, and absolute versus relative poverty. The concept of inequality is discussed and compared with that of poverty. Specific measures of poverty and inequality are considered next.

The measurement of poverty requires the choice of a welfare measure, a benchmark welfare level for identifying those in poverty (a poverty line), and the selection of one or more appropriate poverty indicators. The mathematically desirable features of a poverty or inequality measure are discussed, and the most commonly used measures are described. Some of the special considerations that arise when measuring poverty and inequality at the world level are then investigated, and this is followed by a discussion of the datasets available for producing these. Finally, actual estimates of poverty and inequality in South Africa and the world are examined, with a particular focus on trying to assess the trend in recent years.
It seems fairly certain that the proportion of people in the world living in absolute poverty has declined significantly and consistently over the last few decades, and this trend is continuing. There is less agreement about trends in inequality. Progress against poverty has been very uneven across regions : there have been dramatic declines in Asia, but the situation in Africa has worsened. There is an ongoing debate about poverty and inequality trends in South Africa.

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