Journal Article
A human rights-consistent approach to multidimensional welfare measurement applied to sub-Saharan Africa

The rights-based approach to development targets progress towards the realization of 30 articles set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In current practice, progress is frequently measured using the multidimensional poverty index. While elegant and useful, the multidimensional poverty index is inconsistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights principles of indivisibility, inalienability, and equality.

We argue that a first-order dominance (FOD) methodology maintains basic consistency with these principles. Specifically, FOD comparisons are independent of any applied weighting schemes and hence are free from assumptions regarding substitutability between included welfare indicators (indivisibility). FOD cannot be established when welfare in any indicator is deteriorating, no matter how great the advancement is in other indicators (inalienability). Finally, FOD requires that domination occurs throughout the population (equality), implying that welfare gains among better-off groups never offset welfare losses among worse-off groups.

We discuss and compare the properties of the multidimensional poverty index and first-order dominance approach and apply both measures to 26 African countries using data near 2002 and 2012. Results across the two measures are broadly similar but not the same. For example, while the multidimensional poverty index suggests that all countries are advancing, FOD indicates that 14 countries experience broad-based progress, two countries show more moderate likelihoods of progress, and the remaining 10 countries neither improve nor deteriorate in terms of attainment of rights for the dimensions considered. We conclude that the multidimensional poverty index and first-order dominance approaches are useful complements that should be employed in tandem.

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