June 19 2018 - RHI seminar by Anne Booth: Assessing changes in living standards in Southeast Asia in the 20th  and early 21st century: What indicators should we look at?


Organised by Rural and Environmental History

Tue 19 June 2018 11:00 to 12:30

Venue Leeuwenborch, gebouwnummer 201
Room C71
Poverty and Development Indicators in Southeast Asia: An Overview


In the early years of the new millennium, the ten nations which comprised the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) differed widely in terms of per capita gross domestic product (GDP). There was also considerable variation between the ASEAN nations in widely used development indicators such as adult literacy and life expectancy. The Human Development Index (HDI), computed by the United Nations, which is a weighted average of per capita GDP, life expectancy, adult literacy and school enrollment ratios, ranked Singapore 11th in the world in 2015, while at the other end of the scale, Myanmar was ranked 148. But both the HDI and other measures of development have been criticised, not least for ignoring distributional issues. For much of the last 50 years, development economists have argued that it is not enough just to look at changes in aggregate indictors such as GDP, mortality rates or literacy rates. If the impact of economic growth and associated improvements in non-monetary indicators on living standards is to be fully understood, then we must look at changes in income, literacy or mortality rates by region, gender, ethnic group, and by social class. The purpose of this paper is to examine what indicators have been used in Southeast Asia to quantify the impact of economic growth on living standards, and to assess the problems associated with these indicators. The paper draws on earlier debates in economic history about the measurement of living standards, and also looks at the criticisms which have been made of more recent attempts to measure global poverty and income distribution by the World Bank and other institutions.