Skip to main content Accessibility help

Reducing Poverty Intensity: What Alternative Poverty Measures Reveal about the Impact of Brazil's Bolsa Família

  • Russell Bither-Terry (a1)


Brazil's conditional cash transfer program Bolsa Família (Family Allowance) has gained a worldwide reputation as an effective antipoverty program. However, studies applying the dominant headcount poverty measure, which counts the percentage of households falling below a given poverty line, only credit the program with a first-order reduction in poverty (and extreme poverty) of 0.15 to 1.88 percentage points. This raises the puzzle of how such a modest impact could lead to Bolsa Família's political popularity. This article argues that Bolsa Família does dramatically reduce poverty, but measuring this impact requires thinking of poverty as how far a household is from meeting its basic human needs; choosing a continuous variable; and using income gap, intensity, and ordinal measures that reflect this conceptualization. The more substantial reduction of poverty intensity helps explain the program's reputation.



Hide All
Atkinson, Anthony B. 1998. Poverty in Europe. Oxford: Blackwell.
Brady, David. 2003. Rethinking the Sociological Measurement of Poverty. Social Forces 81, 3: 715–51.
British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). 2003. Brazil's Lula Promises Change. Accessed April 12, 2013.
De Athayde, Phydia. 2008. Nossa fome cotidiana. Carta Capital, July 2.
Fenwick, Tracy Beck. 2009. Avoiding Governors: the Success of Bolsa Família. Latin American Research Review 44, 1: 102–31.
Ferreira, Francisco H.G., Lanjouw, Peter, and Neri, Marcelo. 2000. A New Poverty Profile for Brazil Using Ppv, Pnad and Census Data. Paper presented at annual meeting of the Latin American and Caribbean Economic Association, Rio de Janeiro, October 14. Accessed April 11, 2013.
Foster, James, Greer, Joel, and Thorbecke, Erik. 1984. A Class of Decomposable Poverty Measures. Econometrica 52, 3: 761–66.
Foster, James, Greer, Joel, and Thorbecke, Erik. 2010. The Foster-Greer-Thorbecke (Fgt) Poverty Measures: 25 Years Later. Journal of Economic Inequality 8, 4: 491524.
Fried, Brian J. 2012. Distributive Politics and Conditional Cash Transfers: the Case of Brazil's Bolsa Família. World Development 40, 5: 1042–53.
Hagenaars, Aldi J.M. 1991. The Definition and Measurement of Poverty. In Economic Inequality and Poverty: International Perspectives, ed. Osberg, Lars. Armonk: M. E. Sharpe. 134–56.
Instituto Brasileiro de Análises Sociais e Econômicas (IBASE). 2008. Repercussões do programa Bolsa Família na segurança alimentar e nutricional: relatório síntese. Rio de Janeiro: IBASE.ões-do-bolsa-família.pdf. Accessed April 11, 2013.
Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE). 2009. Pesquisa nacional por amostra de domicílios [Pnad], 2009. Accessed February 3, 2012.
Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE). n.d. Dicionário de variáveis da Pnad 2009: arquivo de pessoas. Data files. Accessed February 3, 2012.
Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada (IPEA). 2011a. Linhas de pobreza regionaís. Accessed January 28, 2013.
Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada (IPEA). 2011b. Gastos com a política social: alavanca para o crescimento comdistribuição de renda. Accessed April 11, 2013.
Kelly, Nathan. 2009. The Politics of Income Inequality in the United States. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lasswell, Harold D. 1958. Politics: Who Gets What, When, How. With Postscript. New York: Meridian.
Lindert, Kathy, Linder, Anja, Hobbs, Jason, and de la Brière, Bénédicte. 2007. The Nuts and Bolts of Brazil's Bolsa Família Program: Implementing Conditional Cash Transfers in a Decentralized Context. World Bank Social Protection Discussion Paper 0709. Accessed April 11, 2013.
Luxembourg Income Study (LIS). 2012. Self-Teaching. Web page. Accessed January 28, 2013.
Myles, John, and Picot, Garnett. 2000. Poverty Indices and Policy Analysis. Review of Income and Wealth 46, 2: 161–79.
Osberg, Lars, and Xu, Kuan. 2000. International Comparisons of Poverty Intensity: Index Decomposition and Bootstrap Inference. Journal of Human Resources 35, 1: 5181.
Rainwater, Lee, and Smeeding, Timothy M.. 2003. Poor Kids in a Rich Country: America's Children in Comparative Perspective. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Rocha, Sonia. 2008. Transferěncias de renda federais: focalização e impactos sobre pobreza e desigualdade. Revista de Economia Contemporânea 12, 1: 5166.
Rosenberg, Tina. 2011. To Beat Back Poverty, Pay the Poor. Opinionator blog, New York Times. Accessed September 5, 2012.
Segall-Corrěa, Ana Maria, Marin-Leon, Leticia, Helito, Hugo, Pérez-Escamilla, Rafael, Maria Pacheco Santos, Leonor, and Paes-Sousa, Rômulo. 2008. Transferěncia de renda e segurança alimentar no Brasil: análise dos dados nacionais. Revista de Nutrição 21, suppl.: 3951.
Sen, Amartya. 1976. Poverty: an Ordinal Approach to Measurement. Econometrica 44, 2: 219–31.
Sen, Amartya. 1983. Poor, Relatively Speaking. Oxford Economic Papers 35, 2: 153–69.
Sen, Amartya. 1999. Development as Freedom. New York: Knopf.
Soares, Sergei. 2012. Bolsa Família, Its Design, Its Impacts and Possibilities for the Future. Working Paper. Brasília: International Policy Center for Inclusive Growth. Accessed April 11, 2013.
Soares, Sergei, and Sátyro, Natália. 2009. O programa Bolsa Família: desnho institucional, impactos e possibilidades futuras. Text for discussion. Brasília: IPEA. Accessed April 11, 2013.
Soares, Sergei, Pedro Herculano, G. de Souza, Ferreira, Guerreiro Osório, Rafael, and Gaiger Silveira, Fernando. 2010. Os impactos do benefício do programa Bolsa Família sobre a desigualdade e a pobreza. In Bolsa Família 2003–2010: avanços e desafios, vol. 2. Brasília: IPEA. 2752. Accessed December 17, 2013.
StataCorp. 2009. Stata Statistical Software: Release 11. College Station, TX: StataCorp LP.
Sugiyama, Natasha Borges, and Hunter, Wendy. Forthcoming. Whither Clientelism? Good Governance and Brazil's Bolsa Família Program. Comparative Politics.
Vaisman, Cecilia. 2012. Brazil Delivers on Hunger Promise. Marketplace (radio program), April 4. Accessed November 4, 2013.
Van Kerm, Philippe. n.d. Stata material by Philippe Van Kerm. Website. Accessed December 11, 2012.
Watts, Jonathan. 2013. Brazil's Bolsa Família Scheme Marks a Decade of Pioneering Poverty Relief. The Guardian, December 17. Accessed January 2, 2014.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Reducing Poverty Intensity: What Alternative Poverty Measures Reveal about the Impact of Brazil's Bolsa Família

  • Russell Bither-Terry (a1)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.