The world has undergone rapid and tremendous change in recent decades. While many nations have achieved ever-higher per capita incomes, and higher well-being according to traditional measures, they have also experienced profound internal change. This change has lead to widespread concerns regarding social exclusion, human security, levels of personal satisfaction and happiness. Other countries have faired much less well, as according to many well-being measures they are worse off than they were 10 or 20 years ago. Life expectancies, for example, have fallen dramatically in many countries and are likely to fall substantially in others. The incidence of income poverty is higher today in many countries than it was ten years ago. Worldwide, more than a billion people currently live on less than one dollar per day. Social science research on living standards, human well-being and quality of life has come a long way over recent years, altering in response to changing global conditions, new research priorities, new conceptualisations and improved data resources. Twenty five years ago, national well-being achievement comparisons relied very heavily, and in some circles exclusively, on measures of income per capita. The same exercise would today be based a range of indicators, including summary measures of human well-being such as the well-known Human Development Index (UNDP, 2005). This is consistent with the commonly accepted view that human well-being is best treated as a multidimensional concept along the lines advocated by Sen (1985, 1993), Stewart (1985), Doyal & Gough (1991), Ramsay (1992), Cummins (1996), Narayan et al. (2000) or Nussbaum (2000) and others, as summarised in Alkire (2002). This view tends not to reject the relevance of income based or economic measures per se, simply positing that there is more to well-being achievement than simply increasing incomes. The widespread acceptance that well-being is multidimensional has more recently been accompanied by another important recognition. This relates not so much to current levels of well-being, but to the likelihood of declines in future levels. This recognition has spawned a rapidly growing literature on what is now termed as ‘vulnerability’. The vulnerability literature has primarily been concerned with the likelihood of individuals falling below the poverty line, be it defined in terms of income, consumption or health. Among the influential early vulnerability studies are Ravallion (1998), Jalan & Ravallion (1998) and Dercon & Krishnan (1999), each of which distinguished between transient and chronic poverty.
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