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Capturing Food Away from Home in Welfare Measures  [2015]

Farfan, Gabriela Genoni, Maria Eugenia Vakis, Renos

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Consumption of food away from home is rapidly growing across the developing world. Surprisingly, the majority of household surveys around the world haven not kept up with its pace and still collect limited information on it. The implications for poverty and inequality measurement are far from clear, and the direction of the impact cannot be established a priori, since consumption of food away from home affects both food consumption and the poverty line. This paper exploits rich data on food away from home collected as part of the National Household Survey in Peru, shedding light to the extent to which welfare measures differ depending on whether they properly account for food away from home. Peru is a relevant context, with the average Peruvian household spending 28 percent of their food budget on food away from home by 2010. The analysis indicates that failure to account for the consumption of food away from home has important implications for poverty and inequality measures as well as the understanding of who the poor are. First, accounting for food away from home results in extreme poverty rates that are 18 percent higher and moderate poverty rates that are 16 percent lower. These results are also consistent, in fact more pronounced, with poverty gap and severity measures. Second, consumption inequality measured by the Gini coefficient decreases by 1.3 points when food away from home is included, a significant reduction. Finally
, inclusion of food away from home results in a reclassification of households from poor to non-poor status and vice versa: 20 percent of the poor are different when the analysis includes consumption of food away from home. This effect is large enough that a standard poverty profile analysis results in significant differences between the poverty classification based on whether food away from home is included or not. The differences cover many dimensions, including demographics, education, and labor market characteristics. Taken together, the results indicate that a serious rethinking of how to deal with the consumption of food away from home in measuring well-being is urgently needed to properly estimate and understand poverty around the world.