Martin Ravallion, Shaohua Chen, 15 September 2017

Past studies have measured poverty in either relative terms (mostly in the developed countries) or absolute terms (the developing world). This column presents a new unified approach to global poverty that assumes that people care about both their own income and their income relative to others in their country of residence. The study finds that global poverty has declined more in absolute terms than in relative terms. The vast bulk of the relatively poor now live in the developing world. The advanced countries have seen little progress against poverty, unlike the developing world.

Sandra Sequeira, Nathan Nunn, Nancy Qian, 17 May 2017

Recent empirical studies of the effects of immigration have tended to focus on short-run outcomes. This column considers the longer run by examining how mass migration at the turn of the 20th century has affected US outcomes today. Higher historical immigration between 1860 and 1920 is found to result in significantly better social and economic outcomes today. The results suggest that the long-run benefits of immigration can be large, can persist across time, and need not come at a high social cost.

Don Fullerton, Nirupama Rao, 03 May 2017

In the 2012 US presidential election, Mitt Romney famously asserted that 47% of the population were long-term dependents of the government – ‘takers’, not ‘givers’ to the system. This column examines this claim using long-spanning household-level data. Even though many households find themselves not paying tax or receiving public benefits in at least some years, only a small fraction consistently pay no tax or consistently receive public transfers.

Karen Clay, Jeff Lingwall, Melvin Stephens, 22 April 2017

The exact causes of (and lessons from) the Great Compression – the decline in US income inequality in the mid-20th century – remain unclear. This column uses census data and changes in law to examine the effect of education across the complete distribution of income. Policies that increased attendance for young children in the late 19th and early 20th centuries appear to have had long-term implications for earnings and inequality, with returns to schooling highest among those at the lower end of the income distribution.

Caitlin Brown, Dominique van de Walle, Martin Ravallion, 30 March 2017

Policymakers face challenges when trying to identify the right targets for antipoverty programmes. This column assesses whether the data typically available to policymakers in sub-Saharan Africa are up to the task. Commonly used proxy means tests are found to perform worse than simpler methods in identifying poor households. Moreover, analyses of nutritional status reveal substantial inequality within households, suggesting that household-based measures are not very effective in identifying disadvantaged individuals.

Pushkar Maitra, Sandip Mitra, Dilip Mookherjee, Alberto Motta, Sujata Visaria, 14 December 2016

Lack of access to credit in developing countries traps farmers in poverty. At the same time, there is a lack of evidence that microfinance raises the incomes of the poor while maintaining high repayment rates. Using a field experiment in West Bengal, this column argues that incentivising local intermediaries to select loan recipients improves both average income growth and crop yields compared to traditional microfinance. There is no evidence that this strategy lowers equity, although some disadvantaged groups performed better in the existing system.

Nora Lustig, 29 November 2016

Why did so many of those who feel left behind vote for a member of the global elite in the US election? This column argues that rather than an increase in income and wealth inequality, it may be a rise in equality for wealthy African-Americans, for women, and for the gay community that is feeding a greater sense of unfairness. If we advocate greater horizontal equality, we must also ensure that it is embraced, or at least tolerated, by all.

Brock Smith, Thomas McGregor, Samuel Wills, 28 August 2016

One of the biggest challenges in fighting poverty is to know where it is. This column describes a new way to measure poverty by using satellites to count people who live in darkness at night. This shows that the economic benefits of oil booms don’t trickle down to the very poor.

Gaurav Datt, Martin Ravallion, Rinku Murgai, 26 March 2016

There has been much debate about the poverty impacts of economic growth and structural transformation in developing countries. This column revisits these issues using a newly constructed dataset of poverty measures for India spanning 60 years. There has been a downward trend in poverty measures since 1970, with an acceleration post-1991, despite rising inequality. Post-1991 data suggest stronger inter-sectoral linkages. Urban consumption growth came with gains to both the rural and urban poor. The primary/secondary/tertiary composition of growth has ceased to matter, as all three sectors contributed to poverty reduction.

Jean-Marie Baland, Rohini Somanathan, Lore Vandewalle, 07 February 2016

The benefits of microfinance are in the details. This column takes a look at commercial bank lending to Indian self-help groups – smaller, informal community-based groups – as a new and successful microfinance initiative. Different ways of thinking about getting credit to the poorest and most marginalised in society can work, but only if the institutions are properly geared up for their customers.

Martin Ravallion, 23 December 2015

With the new UN Global Goals agreed this autumn, the issue of poverty is at the top of global agenda. This column presents a new book that reviews past and present debates on poverty in both rich and poor countries. The challenges ahead are in assuring the political will and administrative capabilities to implement and enforce sound anti-poverty policies, and in adapting them to differing circumstances and evolving knowledge about their efficacy.

Melissa Kearney, Phillip Levine, 16 July 2015

Early childhood education has important effects on the academic readiness and ultimate life chances of children. This column examines how the introduction of the educational television show Sesame Street in the US affected primary school outcomes for disadvantaged children. Those from counties that had better access to the broadcast had superior educational outcomes through their early school years. These effects were particularly pronounced for black, non-Hispanic children, and those living in economically disadvantaged areas. The extremely low cost per child of such interventions make them ideal for addressing educational inequality in childhood.

Jim Tomlinson, 05 July 2015

In Britain today, a majority of those in poverty live in working, rather than non-working, households. This challenges the long-held notion that paid work offers a route out of poverty. This column argues that structural changes in the labour market have brought about profound changes in the social security system. A failure to acknowledge these underlying changes means that dialogues about the political direction of the British economy can be problematic and potentially misleading.

Jeffrey Frankel, 09 September 2014

Subsidies for food and energy are economically inefficient, but can often be politically popular. This column discusses the efforts by new leaders in Egypt, Indonesia, and India to cut unaffordable subsidies. Cutting subsidies now may even be the politically savvy choice if the alternative is shortages and an even more painful rise in the retail price in future. Ironically, it is India’s new Prime Minister Modi – elected with a large electoral mandate and much hype about market reforms – who is already shrinking from the challenge.

Joachim De Weerdt, Kathleen Beegle, Jed Friedman, John Gibson, 18 February 2014

Whereas the Millennium Development Goal of reducing extreme poverty by half was achieved by 2010, the global hunger rate has only fallen by a third since 1990. Differences in survey design may account for part of this discrepancy. This column presents the results of a recent experiment in which households were randomly assigned to different survey designs. These different designs yield vastly different hunger estimates, ranging from 19% to 68% of the population being hungry.

Angus Deaton, 10 January 2014

Angus Deaton talks to Viv Davies about his recent book ‘The Great Escape: health, wealth and the origins of inequality’, that explains how inequality is the catalyst for the great escape from poverty and how the world is better because of it. They discuss the state of inequality in the US, economic growth in China and India and the ineffectiveness of international aid. Deaton stresses the importance of understanding that human well being will be achieved only through a holistic approach. The interview was recorded on 17 October 2013.

Louise Cord, Leonardo Lucchetti, Carlos Rodríguez Castelán, Adam Ratzlaff, 23 December 2013

Poverty and inequality declined over the past 15 years in Latin America and the Caribbean. This column describes these changes and raises the question of sustainability of the discussed trends. Countries in the region should protect the well-being not only of those who live in poverty, but also of those vulnerable to falling back to poverty.

Christiane Baumeister, Lutz Kilian, 30 November 2013

Recently, there has been great concern among policymakers worldwide about rising food prices and increased food-price volatility. It is widely believed that oil and food prices have become closely linked after 2006, owing in part to a shift in US biofuel policies. This column presents evidence that challenges this conventional wisdom.

David Dollar, Tatjana Kleineberg, Aart Kraay, 19 November 2013

A key Millennium Development Goal was to halve the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day. This was met five years ahead of schedule, and the World Bank is promoting a new goal of ‘shared prosperity’ defined in terms of the growth rate of incomes in the bottom 40% of households. This column discusses research showing that there is a strong one-for-one relationship between overall growth and average income growth in the poorest quintiles. Overall growth is thus still important.