Why Is Food Consumption Inequality Underestimated? A Story of Vices and Children

31 Pages Posted: 12 Sep 2016 Last revised: 14 May 2017

Date Written: May 10, 2017


Without data on individual consumption, inequality across individuals is almost invariably inferred by applying adult equivalence scales to household-level consumption data. To assess whether these household-based measures of inequality are effective, we exploit a rare opportunity in which individual food consumption data for each and all household members are available. We use the China Health and Nutrition Survey that covers roughly 6,800 households and 25,000 individuals interviewed repeatedly from 1993 to 2011. We find that standard adult-equivalent measures understate cross-sectional individual consumption inequality by 40%. The discrepancy is largely driven by the inability of these measures to account for (a) the dispersion of the consumption of "vices" among adults (i.e. alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea) and (b) the dispersion of the consumption of food among young children, which doubles that of adults. Our results suggest caution in the use of adult equivalent scales to measure inequality, whose effectiveness depends on the inclusion of "vices" in the consumption basket and the presence of young children.

Keywords: Food, Inequality, Individual Data, Vices, Children

JEL Classification: D12, E21

Suggested Citation

Santaeulalia-Llopis, Raul and Zheng, Yu, Why Is Food Consumption Inequality Underestimated? A Story of Vices and Children (May 10, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2837185 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2837185

Raul Santaeulalia-Llopis (Contact Author)

MOVE-UAB ( email )

Plaza Cívica, s/n
Bellaterra, Barcelona 08193

HOME PAGE: http://r-santaeulalia.net

Yu Zheng

Queen Mary University of London ( email )

Mile End Rd
Mile End Road
London, London E1 4NS
United Kingdom

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