Measures of Material Hardship: Final Report. Chapter 3: Material Hardship Indexes

04/01/2004

Researchers have struggled to create composite measures of material hardship. There are numerous dimensions of material need (e.g., food, shelter, medical care) and researchers must not only choose what types of needs to include in their definition of material hardship, but also determine the threshold at which a family is considered "deprived" of a specific need. In assessing the overall needs of families, researchers also must decide how to weigh measures of material need and combine measures to create a composite hardship index. Despite these complexities, however, a number of domestic policy researchers have created material hardship indexes.

In this chapter, we examine the different approaches researchers have used to define material hardship and the measures they have included in their hardship indexes. Since the SIPP has been the most common source of data for constructing hardship indexes, this chapter distinguishes between the measures drawn from or that are comparable to the SIPP, and those that are not. Chapter 4 goes on to examine the SIPP measures that have been included in hardship indexes and provide descriptive analyses of how these measures relate to other constructs such as household income, where a household lives (e.g., urban versus rural), and family structure. Together, the analyses presented in Chapters 3 and 4 broaden our understanding of the measures that have been most frequently used to define material hardship and create hardship indexes.

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