Pro-Poor Growth: A Primer
Martin Ravallion*
Development Research Group, World Bank
1818 H Street NW, Washington DC
These days it seems that almost everyone in the development community is talking
about "pro-poor growth." What exactly is it, and how can we measure it? Is
ordinary economic growth always "pro-poor growth" or is that some special kind
of growth? And if it is something special, what makes it happen? The paper first
reviews alternative approaches to defining and measuring "pro-poor growth." It
then turns to the evidence on whether growth is pro-poor, what factors make it
more pro-poor (including the role played by both initial inequality and changing
inequality), and whether the things that make the distribution of the gains from
growth more pro-poor come at a cost to the rate of growth. Some priorities for
future research are identified.
World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 3242, March 2004
The Policy Research Working Paper Series disseminates the findings of work in progress to encourage the exchange
of ideas about development issues. An objective of the series is to get the findings out quickly, even if the
presentations are less than fully polished. The papers carry the names of the authors and should be cited
accordingly. The findings, interpretations, and conclusions expressed in this paper are entirely those of the authors.
They do not necessarily represent the view of the World Bank, its Executive Directors, or the countries they
represent. Policy Research Working Papers are available online at http://econ.worldbank.org.
* The author has benefited from the comments of Louise Cord, Francisco Ferreira, Aart Kraay,
Sudhir Shetty and Adrian Wood. Support from the Bank's Poverty Reduction and Economic
Management Network is gratefully acknowledged. Address for correspondence: World Bank, 1818 H
Street NW, Washington DC, 20433, USA; mravallion@worldbank.org .
Introduction
One finds two quite different definitions of "pro-poor growth" in recent literature and
policy-oriented discussions. By one definition it is a situation in which any distributional shifts
accompanying economic growth favor the poor, meaning that poverty falls more than it would
have if all incomes had grown at the same rate (Baulch and McCullock, 2000; Kakwani and
Pernia, 2000). This definition focuses on changes in inequality during the growth process;
roughly speaking, pro-poor growth by this definition requires that the incomes of the poor grow
at a higher rate than those of the nonpoor. A concern with this definition is that, in contracting
economies, distributional changes can be "pro-poor" with no absolute gain to poor people, or
even falling living standards for them. Equally well, a "pro-rich" distributional shift during a
period of overall economic expansion may come with large absolute gains to the poor.
The second definition avoids this problem by focusing instead on what happens to
poverty. The growth process is said to be "pro-poor" if and only if poor people benefit in
absolute terms, as reflected in an appropriate measure of poverty (Ravallion and Chen, 2003).
The extent to which growth is pro-poor by this definition depends solely on the rate of change in
poverty. Naturally this will depend in part on what happens to distribution, but only in part -- it
will also depend on what happens to average living standards.
Both definitions beg the question: What measure of poverty should be used? After first
addressing that question and the implications for measuring the rate of pro-poor growth, the
paper turns to the evidence on whether growth is pro-poor, what factors make it more pro-poor,
and whether they will come at a cost to growth.
2
How is pro-poor growth measured?
As normally defined, "poverty" means that one cannot afford certain pre-determined
consumption needs. This is commonly assessed using a comprehensive measure of real
consumption or income (including imputed values for consumption or income in-kind, including
from own production). This is obtained for randomly sampled households in a socio-economic
survey. There is a large literature on the numerous conceptual and practical issues that arise in
the measurement of welfare using survey data.1 Progress in improving the quality (including
inter-temporal comparability) of data will be crucial to a better understanding of the issues raised
in the following discussion. However, data issues will for the most part be put to one side here.
A key conceptual issue is how the poverty line is to be determined. Here too there is a
literature; for an overview of the theory and methods, see Ravallion (1998). A key issue in the
present context is the distinction between "absolute poverty" and "relative poverty." By absolute
poverty one means that the poverty line has fixed purchasing power; two households with the
same real income are both either "poor" or "not poor." The poverty line is typically chosen to
assure that predetermined nutritional requirements are met, given prevailing diets. By relative
poverty one means that the poverty line tends to have higher real value in less poor sub-groups.
For example, the poverty line might be set as a constant proportion of mean income. This
method can show rising poverty even when the levels of living of the poor have in fact risen.
The discussion in this article will confine attention to absolute poverty.
Given a poverty line, how do we measure poverty? The most common measure in
practice is the headcount index, given by the estimated proportion of the relevant population
living in households with consumption or income below a predetermined poverty line. The
1 For useful overviews of this topic see Deaton (1997, Chapter 3) and Slesnick (1998).
3
headcount index tells us nothing about what has happened to distribution below the poverty line;
for example, if the poorest person becomes poorer then the headcount index will not change.
The poverty gap index (the mean income shortfall below the poverty line as a proportion of the
line, counting the nonpoor has having zero shortfall) will better reflect changes in average levels
of living among the poor. However, it will not reflect changes in distribution among the poor.
Measures of poverty have also been proposed that penalize inequality among the poor. The first
and arguably still the best measure is the index introduced by Watts (1968). This is simply the
population mean of the log of the ratio of the poverty line to censored income, where the latter is
actual income for those below the poverty line and the poverty line for those above it
(Appendix). Zheng (1993) identifies a complete set of axioms for an ideal poverty measure, for
which the Watts index emerges as the unique poverty measure.
Recognizing that there is a degree of uncertainty about the location of a poverty line, it
can be important to look at impacts of aggregate economic growth over a wide range of the
distribution. A useful tool for this purpose is the "growth incidence curve" (Ravallion and Chen,
2003). This gives the rate of growth over the relevant time period at each percentile of the
distribution (ranked by income or consumption per person). Thus at the 50th percentile, the
figure gives the growth rate of the median income. If the growth incidence curve is above the
zero axis at all points up to some percentile p* then poverty has fallen for all headcount indices
up to p* (or all poverty lines up to the value that yields p* as the headcount index) and for all
poverty measures within a broad class (applying a result found in Atkinson, 1987).
If one calculates the area under the growth incidence curve up to the headcount index
then one obtains the total growth in incomes of the poor over the relevant period. The Ravallion-
Chen (2003) "rate of pro-poor growth" is the mean growth rate of the poor. This gives the
4
change in the Watts index per unit time divided by the headcount index. The Appendix
discusses the derivation and properties of this measure. Notice that the mean growth rate of the
poor is not the same thing as the growth rate in the mean for the poor, which will not in general
be consistent with even the direction of change in any sensible measure of the level of poverty
(Ravallion and Chen, 2003).
While the Watts index has (arguably) the most attractive properties of any poverty
measure, it is still only one of the measures found in the literature. If we consider instead any
measure within the Atkinson (1987) class of additive measures of poverty then one can define a
measure of pro-poor growth as the weighted mean growth rate, as obtained by weighting each
point on the growth incidence curve with the weights appropriate to the specific measure of
poverty used (Kraay, 2003).
In describing the impact of economic growth on poverty it can also be useful to exploit
the fact that a measure of poverty (such as the headcount index or the Watts index) can be
written as a function of the mean of the distribution on which that measure is based and the
Lorenz curve of that distribution. (The Lorenz curve gives cumulative income shares as a
function of the cumulative proportion of the population ranked by income.) This can be used to
decompose changes in poverty over time into a component attributed to growth in the mean,
changes in distribution and the interaction effect between these (Datt and Ravallion, 1992). The
same mathematical properties of poverty measures can be used to measure the elasticity of
poverty to growth in the mean, holding distribution constant (Kakwani, 1993) and to study the
analytic properties of that elasticity (Bourguigon, 2001).
A growth process is said to be "distribution neutral" if the growth incidence curve is
perfectly flat, in that incomes at all percentiles grow at the same rate, leaving inequality
5
unchanged. The distributional change can be said to be "pro-poor" if the redistribution
component is poverty reducing. In fact the first definition of "pro-poor growth" described at the
outset of this article is equivalent to requiring that the redistribution component in the Datt-
Ravallion (1992) decomposition for changes in poverty is negative (using final point as
reference).
Building on these concepts, the measure of the rate of pro-poor growth proposed by
Ravallion and Chen (2003) equals the ordinary rate of growth times a "distributional correction"
given by the ratio of the actual change in poverty over time to the change that would have been
observed under distribution neutrality. If the distributional shifts favor the poor then the rate of
pro-poor growth exceeds the ordinary rate of growth. If the shifts go against the poor then it is
lower than the ordinary rate of growth. Thus one can think of the second measure of the rate of
pro-poor growth as the first measure times the ordinary rate of growth. We can write the
following simple equation for the rate of pro-poor growth:
Rate of pro- = Distributional x Ordinary
poor growth correction growth rate
When poverty reduction is the objective (for which economic growth is one of the instruments)
then the rate of pro-poor growth defined above is the right way to measure growth consistently
with that objective.
In studying the impact of growth on poverty, the growth rates can come from either the
same surveys used to measure poverty or the national accounts. Using the surveys has the
advantage that one is measuring growth in household income or consumption per person. Using
surveys also means that time periods and definitions match perfectly with the poverty measures.
National accounts by contrast capture much more than household income; even what is called
"private consumption" in national a accounts is typically calculated in such a way in developing
6
countries that it includes a number of categories of consumption that are not household
consumption (Ravallion, 2003a; Deaton, 2004).
However, using surveys for the growth rates can also lead to overestimation of the
correlation between poverty reduction and growth due to measurement errors in surveys, which
are passed onto both the mean and the poverty measures. Ravallion (2001) tries to correct for this
bias by using the growth rate from the national accounts as an instrumental variable for the
growth rate in the survey mean. This assumes that the growth rates from the two sources are
correlated, but that their errors are not correlated.
While growth rates from these two data sources tend to be highly correlated, there are
some worryingly large differences for some countries (including India in the 1990s) and regions
(such as Eastern Europe and Central Asia in the 1990s). Discrepancies in levels and growth rates
from these two data sources can stem from various factors; for further discussion see Ravallion
(2003a) and Deaton (2004). However, such discrepancies do not imply that poverty measures
should instead be based on the mean incomes from the national accounts; indeed, this could well
make matters worse (Ravallion, 2003b).
Is growth typically pro-poor?
A common empirical finding in the recent literature is that changes in inequality at the
country level have virtually zero correlation with rates of economic growth; see, for example,
Ravallion and Chen (1997), Ravallion (2001), Dollar and Kraay (2002). Amongst growing
economies, inequality tends to fall about as often as it rises, i.e., growth tends to be distribution
neutral on average. For example, across 117 spells between successive household surveys for 47
developing countries I find a correlation coefficient of only 0.06 between annualized changes in
7
the Gini index and annualized rates of growth in mean household income or consumption as
estimated from the same surveys (Ravallion, 2003b).
One must be careful in interpreting such evidence from at least four points of view.
Firstly, there is likely to be considerable measurement error in the changes in inequality over
time -- weakening the power of such tests for detecting the true relationship. Secondly, an
inequality index such as the Gini index may not reflect well how changes in distribution have
impacted on poverty -- that depends on precisely how the distributional changes occur. Thirdly,
finding that there is no change in overall inequality can be consistent with considerable
"churning" under the surface, with gainers and losers at all levels of living. Fourthly, an
unchanging Gini index with growth can mean large increases in absolute income disparities. On
the same data set, Ravallion (2003b) finds a strong positive correlation coefficient of 0.64
between annualized changes in the absolute Gini index (in which absolute differences in incomes
are not scaled by the mean) and rates of growth in mean household consumption. Growth in
average income tends to come with higher absolute disparities in incomes between the "rich" and
the "poor." Arguably, it is the absolute changes that are more obvious to people living in a
growing developing economy than the proportionate changes. So it may well be the case that
much of the debate about what is happening to inequality in the world is actually a debate about
the meaning of "inequality" (Ravallion, 2003b).
While recognizing these caveats, the fact that growth tends to be distribution neutral on
average makes it unsurprising that the literature has also found that absolute poverty measures
tend to fall with growth; see, for example, World Bank (1990, 2000), Ravallion (1995),
Ravallion and Chen (1997), Fields (2001) and Kraay (2003). The elasticity of the "$/day"
poverty rate to growth in the survey mean is around 2, though somewhat lower (in absolute
8
value) if one measures growth rates from national accounts (Ravallion, 2001). The significant
negative correlation between poverty reduction and growth in the mean from surveys is found to
be robust to correcting for the likely correlation of measurement errors in the poverty measures
and those in the mean, using growth rate in the national accounts as the instrumental variable
(Ravallion, 2001). So it can be said that economic growth is typically "pro-poor growth," by the
second definition.
However, there is wide variation in the impact of a given rate of growth on poverty. The
95% confidence interval implies that a 2% annual growth rate in average household income will
bring anything from a modest drop in the poverty rate of 1% to a more dramatic 7% annual
decline (Ravallion, 2001). (So for a country with a headcount index of 40%, we have 95%
confidence that the index will fall by somewhere between 0.4 percentage points and 2.8 points in
the first year.) The elasticity tends to be higher (in absolute value) for higher-order poverty
measures that reflect distribution below the poverty line. Thus the gains to the poor from growth
are clearly not confined to people near the poverty line, but reach deeper.
Finding that growth tends to be distribution neutral on average does not, of course, mean
that distribution is unchanging. Indeed, distributional changes have been an important factor
empirically in explaining differing rates of poverty reduction at country level. Amongst growing
economies, the median rate of decline in the "$1/day" headcount index is 10% per year amongst
countries that combined growth with falling inequality, while it is only 1% per year for those
countries for which growth came with rising inequality (Ravallion, 2001). Either way poverty
tends to fall, but at very different rates. (And similarly amongst contracting economies; poverty
rises on average, but much more rapidly when inequality is rising than falling.) As one would
9
expect, changes in distribution matter even more for higher-order poverty measures, such as the
Watts index, which can respond quite elastically to even small changes in overall inequality.
There has been a trend decline in the incidence of absolute poverty and the total number
of poor over the bulk of the 1980s and 1990s. For example, the number of poor (by the $1/day
standard) fell by about 100 million in the 1990s, representing a decline of about 0.7 points per
year (Chen and Ravallion, 2004). In the aggregate, if the rate of absolute poverty reduction
experienced in the 1990s is maintained it will be sufficient to achieve the U.N.'s Millennium
Development Goal of halving the 1990 $1/day poverty rate by 2015. However, progress has
been highly uneven and Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, is not on track for meeting this goal.
Growth in the most populous countries (China and India) has clearly been important to bringing
down the global headcount of poverty. By the same token, lack of growth in some of the poorest
countries has dampened overall progress.
The story on relative poverty is not so clear. By the Chen-Ravallion relative poverty
measure, the incidence of relative poverty has been falling in the 1990s though with a rising
number of relatively poor (Chen and Ravallion, 2001). Higher rates of growth would be needed
to bring down relative poverty.
It is instructive to have a closer look at the growth process in the two most populous
countries, China and India. Table 1 gives the ordinary rate of growth in mean household
consumption per capita (measured from national sample surveys) for these two countries in the
1990s, and compares this to the rate of pro-poor growth, calculated as the mean growth rate of
the poor at the beginning of the period.2 In both cases there has been a distributional shift
2 The results for India are clouded by a serious comparability problem between the consumption
numbers reported by India's National Sample Survey Organization for 1993/94 and 1999/00; Datt and
Ravallion (2002) review the issues. I have relied on reasonably comparable distributions constructed
from these surveys by Sundaram and Tendulkar (2003a,b). See the note to Table 1 for details.
10
against the poor, such that the rate of pro-poor growth is appreciably lower than the ordinary rate
of growth. (Coincidentally, the distributional correction needed to obtain the rate of pro-poor
growth from the ordinary rate of growth is identical at 0.63.) Notice however that the rate of
pro-poor growth is still positive in both cases -- indicating that poverty is falling. Note also that
the rate of pro-poor growth is almost five times higher in China.
Figure 1 gives the growth incidence curves for the two countries. For China, the growth
rates tend to rise as we move up the distribution; the annual rate of growth in the 1990s varies
from about 3% for the poorest percentile to nine percent for the richest. For India, there is a U
shaped pattern, with the lowest growth rate around the third decile from the bottom. But also for
India, the growth rate peaks at the high end of the distribution. However, no matter where one
draws the poverty line, the rate of pro-poor growth is positive in both cases, and higher in China.
Indeed, even the poorest percentile in China enjoyed a growth rate more than double that of the
poorest percentile in India.
What makes growth more pro-poor?
The rate of growth is clearly an important determinant of the rate of absolute poverty
reduction. But why do we find that the same rate of growth can bring such different rates of
poverty reduction? By probing more deeply into the causes of diverse impacts of growth on
poverty, the literature has pointed to implications for the policies that are needed for rapid
poverty reduction, in addition to promoting higher growth. Two sets of factors can be identified
as the main proximate causes of the differing rates of poverty reduction at given rates of growth:
the initial level of inequality and how inequality changes over time.
Initial inequality. While the evidence suggests that one cannot expect absolute poverty to
fall without positive growth, the higher the initial inequality in a country (even if it does not
11
change), the less the gains from growth tend to be shared by the poor. In other words, a smaller
initial share tends to mean a smaller subsequent share of the gains from aggregate economic
expansion. Evidence for this interaction effect between initial inequality and growth has been
found in cross-country comparisons of rates of poverty reduction (Ravallion, 1997, 2001; Kraay,
2003).
The argument works in reverse too; high inequality will help protect the poor from the
adverse impact of aggregate economic contraction (Ravallion, 1997). Low inequality can thus a
mixed blessing for poor people living in an unstable macroeconomic environment; it helps them
share in the benefits of growth, but it also exposes them to the costs of contraction.
A parsimonious empirical model of the relationship between poverty and growth says
that the rate of poverty reduction (measured as the difference in the log of the measure of
poverty) is directly proportional to the "distribution corrected rate of growth" where the latter is
given by the ordinary rate of growth (log difference in mean consumption or income) times a
distributional term. In Ravallion (1997) the distributional correction used is one minus the initial
Gini index. This model can be improved (in terms of fit with data on actual spells of changes in
poverty matched with growth) by using instead an adjustment for nonlinearity in the relationship
between the growth elasticity of poverty and the initial inequality, giving a simple model of the
expected rate of poverty reduction over any period:
Rate of poverty reduction =
[Constant x (1-Inequality index) ] x Ordinary growth rate
The constant term is negative and is a parameter not less than one. The growth elasticity of
poverty is the term in square brackets. At very high levels of inequality the poor will gain little
or nothing from economic growth; at the extreme in which inequality is at its maximum (an
inequality index of one) the richest person has all the income and so all the gains from growth
12
will go to that person. For values of strictly greater than one, higher levels of initial inequality
will have progressively smaller impacts on the elasticity as inequality rises.
Quite a good fit with data on actual rates of poverty reduction, as measured between
household surveys, can be obtained using the initial Gini index as the measure of inequality and
using = 3.3 By this simple model, the rate of poverty reduction in a given time period is
directly proportional to (1-G)3 times the rate of growth over that period, where G is the Gini
index at the beginning of the time period. Using a sample of estimates of the changes in the log
of the "$1/day" poverty rates for the longest available spells between successive surveys for 62
countries the constant of proportionality is 9.33, with a standard error of 0.75 and R2 = 0.71.4
Figure 2 plots the implied growth elasticity of poverty against the Gini index; the elasticity
ranges from 4.3 to 0.6.
To help interpret this model, consider the rate of poverty reduction with a 2% rate of
growth in per capita income with no change in distribution and a headcount index of 40%. In a
low-inequality country, with a Gini index of 0.30, say, the headcount index will fall by 6.4% per
year, or 2.6 percentage points in the first year; the headcount index will be halved in 10.5 years.
By contrast, in a high inequality country, with a Gini index of 0.60 growing at the same rate and
with the same initial headcount index, the latter will fall at an annual rate of 1.2%, representing a
decline of only 0.7 percentage points in the first year; it will then take 57 years to halve the initial
3 The nonlinear least squares estimate of on a sample of estimates of the changes in the log of
the "$1/day" poverty rates for the longest available spells between surveys for 62 countries gave 3.031
with a standard error of 0.491.
4 If one simply regresses the rate of poverty reduction on the rate of growth (both as log
differences) then one obtains R2 = 0.56. Thus incorporating the nonlinear interaction effect with initial
inequality adds 15 percentage points to the variance in rates of poverty reduction that can be explained by
rates of growth. The "long spells" series was possible for 70 countries, but eight were dropped on the
grounds that the measured rates of poverty reduction relative to rates of growth were either far too large
or far too small to be believed (elasticities less than 10 or greater than 0.5). On the full sample of 70
countries, I obtained R2 = 0.46 using the ordinary rate of growth versus 0.58 using the distribution
corrected rate of growth, as above.
13
poverty rate. Poverty responds slowly to growth in high inequality countries; or (to put the same
point slightly differently) high inequality countries will need unusually high growth rates to
achieve rapid poverty reduction.
These are average expected impacts. Around the highest levels of inequality in the data
set in Figure 2 (Gini indices over one half) the elasticity is not significantly different from zero.
And if anything the standard error on which this test is based is probably over-estimated. If one
corrects the standard error for the bias arising from the correlation between rates of growth and
rates of poverty reduction (as generated by common sources of measurement error) then the
number of high-inequality countries for which one cannot reject the null hypothesis that the
poverty rate is unresponsive to growth rises.
None of this is inconsistent with the findings in the literature indicating that a large share
of the variance in rates of poverty reduction can be attributed to differences in ordinary rates of
growth (Ravallion, 1995; Ravallion and Chen, 1997; Fields, 2001; Kraay, 2003). In a recent
contribution, Kraay (2003) presents Datt-Ravallion decompositions of changes in "$1/day"
poverty measures into growth and redistribution components for as many countries as possible
(drawing on the World Bank's Global Poverty Monitoring Data Base:
http://www.worldbank.org/research/povmonitor/). The growth component is the product of the
growth rate and what can be termed a "partial elasticity of poverty to growth," or "partial
elasticity" for short.5 Kraay finds that the variance in the growth component is largely
attributable to the growth rate, rather than the partial elasticity or its covariance with growth. For
example, he attributes 81% of the variance in the log absolute value of the growth component of
5 It is a partial elasticity because it holds distribution constant; by contrast the "total elasticity" lets
distribution vary consistently with the data; the elasticity in square brackets in the above equation is a
total elasticity. The analytic elasticities of poverty measures discussed in Kakwani (1993) and
Bourguignon (2001) are partial elasticities.
14
changes in the headcount index to the variance in the log absolute growth rate. (The share is
slightly higher for other measures, such as the Watts index, and when one focuses on the longest
available spells between surveys in the data.)
All this is perfectly consistent with finding that poverty is relatively unresponsive to
growth in specific countries. Kraay's results are based on averages formed from cross-country
comparisons. (A variance is an average too, namely the mean of the squared deviations from the
ordinary mean.) For a developing country with average inequality and for which inequality does
increase with growth, Kraay's results offer some support for his policy conclusion that for
reducing poverty the main thing to worry about is achieving a higher rate of growth. However,
that does not mean that growth is sufficient even when inequality is low. If growth in a low
inequality country comes with a sufficient increase in inequality then it will by-pass the poor.
And, as already noted, the empirical finding that growth is roughly distribution neutral on
average is consistent with the fact that it increases roughly half the time during spells of growth
(Ravallion, 2001). Policy effort to keep inequality low may then be crucial to pro-poor growth in
many low-inequality countries.
Furthermore, as we have seen, for high inequality countries, growth will be quite a blunt
instrument against poverty unless that growth comes with falling inequality. The heterogeneity
in country circumstances is key here. Averages formed across countries can be quite
uninformative about how best to achieve pro-poor growth in specific countries.
While initial inequality is an important proximate determinant of differing rates of
poverty reduction at a given rate of growth, to help inform policy we need to probe more deeply
into the relevant sources of inequality. There are inequalities in a number of dimensions that are
likely to matter, including access to both private (human and physical) assets and public goods.
15
Inequalities in access to infrastructure and social services (health care and education) naturally
make it harder for poor people to take up the opportunities afforded by aggregate economic
growth.
Further research is needed on the specific factors influencing the growth elasticity of
poverty. Some clues as to the role played by initial conditions have been found by comparing
rates of poverty reduction across states of India, for which we can compile a long series of
reasonably comparable survey data back to about 1960. The analyses of these data confirm that
economic growth has tended to reduce poverty in India. Higher average farm yields, higher
public spending on development, higher (urban and rural) non-farm output and lower inflation
were all poverty reducing (Ravallion and Datt, 2002). However, the response of poverty to non-
farm output growth in India has varied significantly between states. The differences reflected
systematic differences in initial conditions. Low farm productivity, low rural living standards
relative to urban areas and poor basic education all inhibited the prospects of the poor
participating in growth of the non-farm sector. Rural and human resource development appear to
be strongly synergistic with poverty reduction through an expanding non-farm economy.
Changing income distribution. A second factor influencing the rate of poverty reduction
at a given rate of growth is changing income distribution. We have seen that what happens to
inequality in growing economies can make a big difference to the rate of poverty reduction.
What underlies the changes in distribution? There are clearly a great many country-specific
idiosyncratic factors (such as changes in trade regime, tax reforms, welfare-policy reforms and
changes in demographics). Generalizations across country experience are never easy, but one
factor that is likely to matter in many developing countries is the geographic and sectoral pattern
of growth. The marked concentrations of poor people in specific regions and/or sectors that one
16
finds in many countries points to the importance of the pattern of growth to overall poverty
reduction. The extent to which growth favors the rural sector is often key to its impact on
aggregate poverty. The geographic incidence of both rural and urban economic growth is often
important as well. However, the extent to which the pattern of growth (rather than simply the
overall growth rate) matters to the rate of poverty reduction is likely to vary from country-to-
country, depending on (inter alia) how unbalanced the growth process has been in the past and
(hence) how much difference one currently finds between sectors or regions in levels of poverty.
Higher growth in a number developing countries has come with widening regional
disparities and often little or no growth in lagging poor areas. For example, non-farm economic
growth in India has not occurred in the states where it would have the most impact on poverty
nationally (Datt and Ravallion, 2002). This can be seen in Figure 3, which plots the non-
agricultural growth rate by state (on the vertical axis) against the proportionate impact of non-
agricultural growth in each state on the national poverty rate (the latter is given by the state's
elasticity of poverty to growth weighted by its share in national poverty). For the geographic
pattern of growth to be conducive to poverty reduction, one would see a negative relationship in
this figure; states where poverty is more (negatively) responsive to growth would need to grow
faster. But there is no sign of this. A more pro-poor geographic pattern of growth in India's
non-agricultural economy in the 1990s would have required higher growth in states such as
Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh.
Agricultural growth has also lagged relative to the (primarily urban) non-farm economy.
Here the geographic pattern of growth has not been the issue, but rather the problem has been too
little aggregate growth in this key sector for the poor. As a result, the overall growth process in
17
India has tended to become less pro-poor over time. The same thing appears to have been
happening in China.
Making growth more pro-poor requires a combination of more growth, a more pro-poor
pattern of growth and success in reducing the antecedent inequalities that limit the prospects for
poor people to share in the opportunities unleashed in a growing economy. The ideal
combination will naturally vary with country circumstances. In some countries, attention can
safely focus on the overall rate of growth to assure rapid poverty reduction; elsewhere, a broader
approach will be called for. This begs the question as to whether there might be a trade-off
between interventions to make growth more pro-poor and the rate of growth.
Is poverty an impediment to future growth?
While poverty is more often seen as a consequence of low average income, there are
reasons for thinking that there is a feedback effect whereby high initial inequality also impedes
future growth.6 In many developing countries, a plausible way this can happen stems from the
existence of credit market failures, which mean that some people are unable to exploit growth-
promoting opportunities for investment in (physical and human) capital. And it will tend to be
the poor for whom these constraints are most likely to be binding. With declining marginal
products of capital, the output loss from the market failure will be greater for the poor. So the
higher the proportion of poor people there are in the economy the lower the rate of growth. Then
poverty is self-perpetuating.
There are other ways in which high inequality can impede growth prospects. In the
presence of capital market failures due to moral hazard, high inequality can dull incentives for
6 There is now a sizeable theoretical literature on the various ways in which inequality can
impede growth. Contributions include Galor and Zeira (1993), Banerjee and Newman (1993),
Benabou (1996), Aghion et al., (1999) and Bardhan et al., (1999).
18
wealth accumulation. It has also been argued that high inequality can foster macroeconomic
instability and impede efficiency-promoting reforms that require cooperation and trust.7
There is supportive evidence for the view that inequality is bad for growth from cross-
country comparisons of growth rates, suggesting that countries with higher initial inequality
experienced lower rates of growth controlling for other factors such as initial average income,
openness to trade and the rate of inflation.8 At the same time, there are also a number of
concerns about the data and methods underlying these findings based on cross-country
comparative analysis (Ravallion, 2001). Future research will hopefully throw more light on the
magnitude of the efficiency costs of inequality.
Accepting that there is no aggregate trade off between mean income and inequality does
not, however, mean that there are no trade-offs at the level of specific policies. Reducing
inequality by adding further distortions to an economy will have ambiguous effects on growth
and (hence) poverty reduction.
However, there are many things that governments can do to assure more pro-poor
growth. A high priority must be given to public action that can help poor people acquire the
skills and maintain the good health needed to participate in the growth process. Policies that
help insure the poor can also help underpin their longer-term prospects of escaping poverty.
Doing less damage is also a good idea. There are often biases against the poor in taxation and
spending policies, such as in the allocation of infrastructure spending. Government policies in
some countries also add to the risks and costs facing poor people in attempting to escape poverty,
such as by migration to better off areas. Recognizing that it is typically the poor rather than the
7 Aghion et al (1998) and Bardhan et al. (1999) review these and related arguments as to why high
inequality can reduce aggregate output.
8 See Persson and Tabellini (1994), Alesina and Rodrik (1994), Clarke (1995), Birdsall et al.,
(1995), Perotti (1996), Deininger and Squire (1998) and Easterly (2002).
19
rich who are locked out of profitable opportunities for self-advancement, well-designed direct
public action against current poverty can also help promote growth and hence longer-term
poverty reduction.
Conclusions
The challenge for policy is to combine growth-promoting reforms with the right policies
to assure that the poor can participate fully in the opportunities unleashed, and so contribute to
that growth. Get the combination of policies right, both growth and poverty reduction can be
rapid. Get it wrong, both may well be stalled. Future research can help meet this challenge by:
· Throwing light on the country-specific and sub-national factors that influence the
distributional nature of aggregate growth;
· Identifying to what extent those factors are amenable to policy intervention;
· Quantifying the trade-offs between alternative policies for promoting pro-poor growth,
embracing both redistributive social policies and alternative growth strategies.
20
Appendix: Measuring pro-poor growth
The Watts index is arguably the single best measure of poverty, since it is the only index
that satisfies all the properties of an ideal poverty measure, as identified in the theoretical
literature (Zheng, 1993). What then is the measure of the rate of "pro-poor growth"
corresponding to changes over time in the Watts index? It turns out that the answer is strikingly
simple.
Ravallion and Chen (2003) propose using the mean growth rate of the poor. To see why
this measure is of interest, note first that the Watts index at date t can be written in the form:
Ht
Wt = log[z / yt ( p)]dp
(1)
0
where yt (p) is the quantile function (obtained by inverting the cumulative distribution function
p = Ft (x)at the p'th quantile) and Ht = Ft (z) is the headcount index. It is readily verified that
(1) can be written in the equivalent form:
Wt = log(z / yt )
* (2)
where
Ht
log yt log yt (p)dp + (1- Ht )log z
* (3)
0
is the mean of log censored incomes, where the censored income is min[yt (p), z], i.e., actual
income when this is below the poverty line and the poverty line itself otherwise. It is evident
from (2) that yt is a stable monotonic decreasing function of the actual value of the Watts index.
*
In other words, yt is an exact money metric of the Watts index.
*
The growth rate in yt is the aggregate growth rate in the incomes of the poor. On
*
differentiating (3) w.r.t. time we have:
d log(yt )
*
= -dWt Ht
= d log yt ( p)dp (4)
dt dt
0 dt
This can be interpreted as the measure of the growth rate consistent with the Watts index for the
level of poverty. The growth incidence curve is simply:
21
gt ( p) d log yt ( p)for 0 p 1 (5)
dt
This traces out how the growth rate varies by percentile of the distribution ranked by y. Thus the
change in the Watts index per unit time is simply the area under the growth incidence curve up to
the head count index. When equation (4) is normalized by the headcount index one obtains the
mean growth rate of the poor:
gt
p 1Ht
p) (6)
Ht gt(
0
Notice that when all income levels grow at the same rate (leaving distribution unchanged),
equation (6) just gives the overall growth rate, t . Notice also that the change in the Watts
index when all income grow at the same rate is:
- dWt *
(7)
dt t Ht
Thus one can also write the rate of pro-poor growth, as given by (6), in the equivalent form:
gt
p dWt (8)
dWt* t
Thus the rate of pro-poor growth is the ordinary growth rate in the mean scaled up or down by
the ratio of the actual change in the Watts index to the change implied by distribution-neutral
growth (Ravallion and Chen, 2003). If the Watts index falls more (less) that one would have
expected if all incomes had grown at the same rate then the rate of pro-poor growth is greater
than (less than) the ordinary rate of growth.
22
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25
Table 1: Ordinary rates of growth and rate of pro-poor growth in China and India
Growth rates (% per annum) India China
1993/94-1999/00 1990-1999
Ordinary growth rate 1.3 6.2
Rate of pro-poor growth 0.8 3.9
Distributional effect 0.63 0.63
Note: Based on a headcount index of 40% for India and 15% for China. The China estimates are
for household income per person and are from Ravallion and Chen (2003). The India estimates
use comparable distributions of consumption per person based on a common "mixed reference
period" for categories of consumption as obtained by Sundaram and Tendulkar (2003b). (These
correct a mistake in the 1993/94 distributions as reported in Sundaram and Tendulkar, 2003a.)
Rural and urban distributions are aggregated assuming urban-rural cost-of-living differentials of
33% and 38% for 1993/94 and 1999/00 respectively; these are based on updated poverty lines as
used in Ravallion and Datt (2002).
Figure 1: Growth incidence curves for China and India in the 1990s
10
%( 9
onsr 8
per
pe
e 7
China 1990-1999
nditurepx 6
/ee 5
mo
inc 4
in
3
owth
grl 2
India 1993/94-1999/00
nnuaA 1
0
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90
The poorest p% of population ranked by per capita income/expenditure
Note: See Table 1 on sources.
26
Figure 2: Growth elasticity of poverty as a function of the initial Gini index
0
ty -1
er
pov
of -2
tyicti
asel -3
ht
owrG -4
-5
20 30 40 50 60
Initial Gini index
Note: Authors calculations (see text)
27
Figure 3: Non-agricultural economic growth in India in the 1990s has not been happening
in the states where it would have had the most impact on poverty nationally
14
tapiacreptu 12
)
ear/y 10
%(
outp
mraf 00 8
99/
19
non-
ni 4-9/3 6
etar 199 4
ht
owrG 2
-0.14 -0.12 -0.10 -0.08 -0.06 -0.04 -0.02 0.00
Impact on national poverty of non-farm output growth by state
(Shareweighted elasticity for 1993/94)
Note: Based on Datt and Ravallion (2002).
28