One of the primary challenges in measuring material hardship is the lack of a commonly accepted definition of material need or standard approach to its measurement. Most domestic researchers interested in material hardship have built upon earlier work by Mayer and Jencks (1989) in which they constructed a hardship index that included various indicators of material need. However, despite this common reference point, there remains considerable disagreement among researchers as to how to define and measure material hardship.
In response to this situation, discussants at the Roundtable Meeting recommended undertaking additional definitional and theoretical work that focuses on what is meant by material hardship and how it could be measured in the context of low-income families and children. This chapter responds to this recommendation by: 1) summarizing some of the literature on the related concepts of poverty and deprivation; and 2) discussing some of the challenges that must be overcome to develop a commonly accepted definition of material hardship and corresponding measurement strategies.