Traditionally, income measurements such as Gross National Product, income distribution reports, and income thresholds have been used to describe well-being, inequality, and deprivation. Although they are concrete, these income measures may not provide the full spectrum of data needed to develop effective public policy. For instance, they do not describe the impact of environmental degradation or the deterioration of community on well-being, and they do not capture the amount and quality of leisure time or the level at which basic human needs are satisfied. Recently, research has shown that movements of GNP per capita can be at odds with other indicators of quality of life, including life expectancy, maternal mortality, and adult literacy.
The Network on Inequality and Poverty in Broader Perspective seeks to expand research on various dimensions of well-being and to inform policies aimed at countering poverty and inequality. Initiated in 1997, the network includes economists, anthropologists, demographers, physicians, and sociologists.
The approach of this network is multifaceted, involving basic conceptual research on standard approaches to income inequality and poverty, as well as empirical research using econometric analysis of health, education, and income data from three countries — the U.S., South Africa, and India. One major project investigates the technical properties and policy usefulness of a particular measure of quality of life — the Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALY) indicator. While this indicator represents an advance in the measurement of ill health, it has important policy limitations. Network researchers are working on an alternative, equity-sensitive health indicator.
The network is also exploring a more inclusive framework for assessing health outcomes, taking into consideration an individual's own perceptions as well as more objective data. Other projects examine the connections among economic, gender, racial, and other inequalities in different spheres of life, such as education, work, and health. And still others are considering how a broader economic and social approach could improve policies directed at hunger and famine.
In addition, team members are conducting empirical studies in the U.S., South Africa, and India, focusing on inequalities in income, consumption, and health, and the relationships among these inequalities. One study, for example, will track inequality from the labor market to consumption, seeking the underlying causes of changes in inequality and policies that might remedy it. Other projects investigate the relationship between inequalities in income and in health, and the relationship between economic fluctuations (especially unemployment) and child abuse and neglect. Finally, team members are examining the determinants of educational success in South Africa — including the roles of parents, schools, and school expenditures — as well as the relationships among income, health, and inequality in that country.