Abigail McKnight explains why we are currently unable to give a meaningful answer to this question and how she believes the new Multidimensional Inequality Framework will allow us to answer this question in the future.
How divided are we? It is a simple enough question but it is one that we find difficult to answer. Estimates of inequality are available for various outcomes. For example, estimates of inequality in income, earnings, wealth, health, life expectancy and education. But these measures only provide a partial picture of inequality. Attempts have been made to estimate holistic measures of well-being such as measures based on estimates of happiness. However, from a quality of life perspective, existing approaches are problematic.
This is because, on the one hand, measures based on economic outcomes fail to take into account differences in need between individuals and households, or differences in their ability to convert these resources into valuable things they can do or be (such as going on holiday, being well-nourished, feeling physically secure or having friends). On the other hand, subjective outcomes such as happiness are shaped by people’s expectations of life and these expectations are influenced by social and cultural norms and by their upbringing.
The Multidimensional Inequality Framework (MIF), developed through a collaboration between academics and practitioners, is designed to fill this gap. It is theoretically underpinned by Amartya Sen’s capability approach to conceptualising and assessing well-being. This approach leads us to consider the important dimensions that shape individuals’ capability to lead a life they have reason to value and one that they would choose for themselves, assuming that they have the freedoms necessary to do so.
The MIF, along with accompanying toolkits, provide all the resources necessary to measure, analyse and take action on multidimensional inequality. The resources are free to use and the MIF can be easily adapted to suit different countries and parts of the world. This means that although we are not able to answer the opening question today, we hope that in the not too distant future we will be able to provide a systematic response with the help of users of the MIF around the world. Armed with this information we will be better equipped to improve the quality of people’s lives and reduce the differences between them.
The Multidimensional Inequality Framework was developed as part of a collaboration between academics at the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE) at the LSE and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), and practitioners at Oxfam. The initial project was funded through grant from the Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity (AFSEE) programme at the LSE’s International Inequalities Institute and further funding for the development of the CASE website was provided by the LSE’s Knowledge Exchange and Impact Fund. The MIF and toolkit are free to access from the LSE website http://sticerd.lse.ac.uk/inequality/