Mapping deprivation across lives

05 November 2019

The Individual Deprivation Measure offers policymakers a chance to truly understand the multi-dimensionality of poverty, providing insights into deprivation’s unique characteristics at different stages in life, Angie Bexley and Mandy Yap write.

Often, policymakers can identify people living in poverty, but do not know in which ways the poor are ‘left behind’. This is because data that illuminates different dimensions of deprivation and how it intersects with gender, age, and location, has been largely unavailable. Until now. The Individual Deprivation Measure (IDM) was designed to bridge that data gap.

The IDM surveys 15 dimensions of deprivation, including the usual ones such as education, health, and living standards, but it also adds time-use, social relations, clothing, family planning, voice, environment, work, food, energy, violence, and sanitation.

The survey was developed from participatory research with people experiencing poverty. It focuses on the gendered and intersectional nature of poverty, is multi-dimensional, scalar, rather than binary, and takes the individual, rather than the household, as the unit of analysis. The IDM provides information not only on which sub-groups of a population are multi-dimensionally poor, but also which deprivation dimensions are experienced together.

In 2018, The Australian National University undertook an IDM study in Indonesia. The results in one district where 2,815 people were surveyed are shown here to identify important differences in the experience of deprivation between men and women across the course of life.

To assess multidimensional poverty at different stages of life, the researchers used three broad age categories: young adults who were 16 to 24 years of age, mid-life people who were 25-59 years of age, and older adults who were 60 plus years of age.

Importantly, the research shows that while all age groups experience deprivation, different dimensions are more acute at different stages of life – indicating that policy responses must be attuned to the specific deprivations of different age groups.

First was young people, whose deprivation the research showed is characterised by uncertainty over housing, a lack of voice, and poor mental health.

Young people aged 16-24 experienced higher rates of feelings of worry, nervousness and anxiety, 56.1 per cent in total, with small declines across the age cohorts: 55 per cent of the middle age group and 53 per cent of the 60+ age group.

Anxiety and worry also seem to be gendered. Young women were more likely, at 62.4 per cent than young men, at 48.1 per cent, to report having felt worried, nervous or anxious.

In relation to shelter, the youngest cohort was most likely to fear eviction, twice as likely as the middle-aged group. Interestingly, more young women than young men reported fear of eviction, with rates at 7.8 per cent of females and 2.15 per cent of males.

Being able to raise concerns within your community was one theme measured. While more young people had concerns compared with the older cohorts, they were far less likely to raise concerns with local leaders, at 33.8 per cent, compared with 62.2 per cent for middle-aged people and 66.2 per cent for the oldest cohort.

The youngest cohort are also more likely to believe that it is either difficult or very difficult for them to raise concerns and are also that they would not be taken seriously by leaders.

This is particularly pertinent for young women, 69.8 per cent of whom said they do not raise concerns, compared with half of young men.

Second was the middle-aged, a cohort more concerned with time-burdens, food, and menstruation.

In mid-life, different dimensions of deprivation emerge. The burdens of care, unpaid domestic work, and paid work create a time deprivation, particularly for women, at this stage of life. Both men and women are time-deprived in mid-life, but women carry the greatest burden for unpaid domestic and care work, regardless of whether they are in paid employment or not.

Women aged 25 to 59 years were more likely to be doing more paid and unpaid activities, at 12.25 mean hours per day, compared to their younger and older counterparts, at 11.43 hours and 11.21 mean hours per day respectively.

Women in mid-life are more likely than any other age group to report being worried about running out of food. They are also more likely to restrict their own diets due to lack of money.

Women’s access to sanitary products during menstruation is an issue not often assessed when measuring poverty but is essential for women’s levels of deprivation, including their health, well-being and levels of social inclusion.

A lack of access to sanitary products was more acute for middle-aged women than the younger age group. The study illuminates the compounding dimensions of poverty for women in mid-life.

The final group was the elderly, whose deprivation was most acute in terms of their relationships, clothing, and electricity.

People over 60 are a particularly vulnerable group in society. Weak social support can lead to isolation, which can compound poverty for older people.

Older people were least likely to attend community events, with 20.5 per cent of older reporting that they had attended no community events in the past 12 months. Older women were more socially isolated than men and were also more likely to have inadequate clothing.

The IDM relationships dimension also assesses levels of dependency and the ability to reciprocate. A larger group of older people, 8.2 per cent, reported being unable to return a favour, compared with 2.7 per cent of young people and 1.8 per cent of middle-aged people.

Older women are also the most deprived in terms of availability of energy. 11.7 per cent of older women said they did not always have lighting sources, compared to 5.3 per cent of middle-aged women and 5.1 per cent of younger women. This deprivation has significant implications for safety and well-being.

This research shows that poverty is different for different groups of people and that therefore, different policy responses may be needed to tackle it.

The compounding effects of poverty are better understood when we can see multiple dimensions that affect different groups of the poor. The IDM provides detailed information on different age groups, which is essential for better-targeted solutions to ensure that nobody gets left behind.

The authors would like to express their gratitude to Janet Hunt, Masud Hasan, Trang Pham, Helen Suich and Sharon Bessell and to acknowledge the contributions and support of the members of the IDM Program team.

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