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Did living standards improve in Papua New Guinea over the last two decades, and especially as a result of the resource boom of the 2000s? This question remains unanswered to date. The best source to answer it is the PNG Demographic and Health Surveys for 1996, 2006 and 2016–18. Analysis of these surveys leads to three conclusions. First, there are clearly some ways in which living standards have improved: more households have rainwater tanks; more children are at school, albeit from a low base; and childhood mortality rates have fallen. Second, there are areas of regress: less access to traditional media and worse health services. Third, there are areas of stagnation: no growth in the importance of non-agricultural jobs, and little sign of significantly improved status for and equity of women. Overall, the results show some benefits from economic growth, but also areas of real concern, and little sign of the structural transformation needed for sustained and successful development. Interestingly, the analysis also reveals a trend to convergence between urban and rural living standards.
Professor Stephen Howes is Director of the Development Policy Centre.
This presentation is based on the speakers’ chapter in the forthcoming ANU-UPNG edited volume on contemporary issues in PNG.