NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Targeting the Poor: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Indonesia

Vivi Alatas, Abhijit Banerjee, Rema Hanna, Benjamin A. Olken, Julia Tobias

NBER Working Paper No. 15980
Issued in May 2010
NBER Program(s):   PE   POL

In developing countries, identifying the poor for redistribution or social insurance is challenging because the government lacks information about people’s incomes. This paper reports the results of a field experiment conducted in 640 Indonesian villages that investigated two main approaches to solving this problem: proxy-means tests, where a census of hard-to-hide assets is used to predict consumption, and community-based targeting, where villagers rank everyone on a scale from richest to poorest. When poverty is defined using per-capita expenditure and the common PPP$2 per day threshold, we find that community-based targeting performs worse in identifying the poor than proxy-means tests, particularly near the threshold. This worse performance does not appear to be due to elite capture. Instead, communities appear to be using a different concept of poverty: the results of community-based methods are more correlated with how individual community members rank each other and with villagers’ self-assessments of their own status than per-capita expenditure. Consistent with this, the community-based methods result in higher satisfaction with beneficiary lists and the targeting process.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w15980

Published: Vivi Alatas & Abhijit Banerjee & Rema Hanna & Benjamin A. Olken & Julia Tobias, 2012. "Targeting the Poor: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Indonesia," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(4), pages 1206-40, June.

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