Disability and Poverty in Developing Countries: A Multidimensional Study

Using World Health Survey (WHS) quantitative data, this study investigates the economic status of persons with disabilities in 15 developing countries, presenting a snapshot picture of several indicators of economic well-being and poverty across disability status. It has seven main findings.

1. Disability is significantly associated with higher multidimensional poverty in most of the developing countries under study.

2. There was not a single economic well-being dimension, where disability was systematically associated with deprivation in the 15 countries. Dimension level results support the hypothesis that the types of economic deprivations (e.g., non-employment, low educational attainment) that persons with disabilities face vary across countries.

3. Households with disabilities are not worse off when their well-being is measured by mean non-health PCE and when poverty is measured through the headcount, gap, and severity based on non-health PCE as welfare aggregate.

4. Among persons with disabilities, persons aged 40 and above and persons with multiple disabilities were more likely to be multi-dimensionally poor.

5. Gaps in economic well-being and poverty were found to be more often significant and larger in middle income countries compared to low income countries.

6. Disability prevalence is variable across the 15 countries under study and is high in most countries (above 5%). Nine countries have a prevalence rate between 5% and 10%, and four countries have prevalence rates between 10% and 15%. Therefore persons with disabilities account for sizeable portions of the working age population in developing countries.

7. At the individual level, in most of the countries included in the study, persons with disabilities have lower educational attainment and experience lower employment rates than persons without disabilities.

The results in this paper give impetus for more research on disability and social and economic outcomes in developing countries. First and foremost, research is needed in identifying the channels through which disability may lead to poverty and vice versa in different developing country contexts. It is necessary to bring causal pathways into light in order to make specific policy recommendations, at the country level, on how to reduce poverty among persons with disabilities, and how to curb the incidence of disability among the poor. Second, given the variations across countries, understanding the factors behind them might help understand which policies work in efforts to include persons with disabilities in development. Both recommendations critically depend on the availability of more and better data on persons with disabilities and their households.

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