Measuring Poverty in Southern India: A Comparison of Socio-Economic Scales Evaluated against Childhood Stunting

Citation: Kattula D, Venugopal S, Velusamy V, Sarkar R, Jiang V, S. MG, et al. (2016) Measuring Poverty in Southern India: A Comparison of Socio-Economic Scales Evaluated against Childhood Stunting. PLoS ONE 11(8): e0160706. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0160706
Published: August 4, 2016

Poor_part_of_ChennaiIntroduction: Socioeconomic status (SES) scales measure poverty, wealth and economic inequality in a population to guide appropriate economic and public health policies. Measurement of poverty and comparison of material deprivation across nations is a challenge. This study compared four SES scales which have been used locally and internationally and evaluated them against childhood stunting, used as an indicator of chronic deprivation, in urban southern India.
Methods: A door-to-door survey collected information on socio-demographic indicators such as education, occupation, assets, income and living conditions in a semi-urban slum area in Vellore, Tamil Nadu in southern India. A total of 7925 households were categorized by four SES scales—Kuppuswamy scale, Below Poverty Line scale (BPL), the modified Kuppuswamy scale, and the multidimensional poverty index (MDPI) and the level of agreement compared between scales. Logistic regression was used to test the association of SES scales with stunting.
Findings: The Kuppuswamy, BPL, MDPI and modified Kuppuswamy scales classified 7.1%, 1%, 5.5%, and 55.3% of families as low SES respectively, indicating conservative estimation of low SES by the BPL and MDPI scales in comparison with the modified Kuppuswamy scale, which had the highest sensitivity (89%). Children from low SES classified by all scales had higher odds of stunting, but the level of agreement between scales was very poor ranging from 1%-15%.
Conclusion: There is great non-uniformity between existing SES scales and cautious interpretation of SES scales is needed in the context of social, cultural, and economic realities.


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