Living Decently

Peter Travers, Sue Richardson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


One of the reasons why poverty lines became popular at the turn of the century was their promise of a scientific technique that would dispense with moralising about poverty. We argue that a price paid in this quest has been an impoverishment of the richness of the notion of ‘a decent life’, the moral concept underlying poverty. In addition, poverty lines have in practice been more to do with inequality at the bottom end of the income distribution than with poverty. The purpose of this article is to rehabilitate the measurement of poverty, and to make it credible. We set out our preferred method of poverty measurement, and illustrate it using data from the Australian Standard of Living Study. A feature of our approach is to distinguish clearly between issues of inequality and issues of poverty. Questions such as who is on the bottom of the income distribution, whether this has changed over time, and how income levels of the worst off compare with the mean, are questions of inequality. As such, the answers tell us nothing at all about how the worst off are actually living. To answer that question, we require direct measures of consumption and of social participation. These measures are not as simple, but they provide us with knowledge about poverty that poverty lines have promised, but have not delivered in a credible fashion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-42
Number of pages14
JournalAustralian Economic Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 1992
Externally publishedYes


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