Measures of Material Hardship: Final Report. Measurement and Analytical Challenges


As described above, it has been possible for researchers who examine need and hardship in developing countries to reach broad agreement on a common set of material needs that are essential to survival  basic levels of shelter accommodations, medical care, food, clothing and sanitation (e.g., Ravallion, 1998; Sen, 1987; Streeten, 1981, 1984). Researchers in the US have used much higher standards and included items that reflect societal norms, which might not be considered "essential" in other contexts. Allowing for these variations in researchers' views as to what constitutes a material need and a corresponding threshold for identifying material hardship, there are other aspects of measurement and analysis that require consideration. These include:

  • Choosing appropriate constructs for measuring need;
  • Selecting reliable and valid measures; and,
  • Deciding how to summarize a wide array of potential measures into a smaller, more manageable number of measures, or possibly a scale or index.

In the following sections, we discuss these issues and identify possible strategies for overcoming these challenges.

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