European Measures of Income and Poverty: Lessons for the U.S.

Edited by Douglas J. Besharov and Kenneth Couch

Book Prospectus

Many people believe that European countries use only relative measures of poverty (such as 40, 50, or 60 percent of median household income). Many countries, however, use a more diverse array of measures (as do some international organizations, such as the OECD and the World Bank). These include measures of "absolute poverty," "subsistence poverty," "administrative poverty," "social poverty," "consumption poverty," and "social exclusion."

At least three factors seem to be helping to diversify European measures of poverty: (1) the growing income-inequality in most countries, caused by such factors as greater returns on skills/education, the increase in two-earner households (similar to the US), and high levels of unemployment or nonwork; (2) the growth of immigrant populations and the consequently changing views about "social solidarity"; and 3) the palpable limitations (and inequities) of using relative measures across affluent and transitional (that is, Eastern European) economies.

What are these other measures, how and why are they used, and what lessons do they provide for the American debate about measuring poverty? Of additional importance are the policy and political implications of greater income dispersion (or inequality).

This volume would be developed under the auspices of Besharov’s Center for the International Exchange of Policy Information at the University of Maryland in collaboration with the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation’s Division of Social Policy. The project is in its formative stage and arrangements with various authors are currently being explored. Possible chapters would include:

  • The use of relative and absolute measures of poverty: Advantages and disadvantages
  • Europe’s growing income dispersion: Causes and implications for poverty measurement and social policy of growing income inequality
  • Measuring poverty in transitional economies
  • Poverty measures and program eligibility: The difference and the interaction
  • When income is not enough: "Social exclusion" as a supplemental poverty concept
  • Life-cycle perspectives on income and poverty


Douglas J. Besharov, Professor, University of Maryland School of Public Policy, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and President of the Association for Pubic Policy Analysis and Management

Kenneth Couch, Associate Professor, University of Connecticut