Multidimensional Poverty Measurement: The Value of Life and the Challenge to Value Aggregation

Nicole Hassoun (Lead Author), Anders Herlitz, Lucio Esposito

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Multidimensional poverty measures require implicit, if not explicit, trade-offs between different dimensions. One of the central values that has to be weighed against other values in this context is the value of life, since this is a central part of multidimensional poverty measures – often proxied for by longevity or child mortality. Different ways of weighting value dimensions (even weighting dimensions equally) require justification. This paper explores the idea that it is impossible to weigh the value of life (or poverty dimensions that reflect this value) against other values. We reject the idea that life has infinite value but provide a preliminary defense for two arguments that life’s value is incommensurable with but trumps the value of other things. On the first, life’s value is incommensurable with but trumps the value of other things because it is a necessary precondition for other things to be valuable to someone. On the second, the trumping relation is itself part of the value of life. If either of these arguments work, then there is reason to revise many multi-dimensional poverty measures that trade-off improvements in longevity against other things. Further investigation is necessary to determine whether similar arguments can show that other dimensions of poverty are likewise incommensurable.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDimensions of Poverty
Subtitle of host publicationMeasurement, Epistemic Injustices, Activism
EditorsValentin Beck, Henning Hahn, Robert Lepenies
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-030-31711-9
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-31710-2
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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