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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.

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Latin American Politics and Society
  • ISSN: 1531-426X
  • EISSN: 1548-2456
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