What would a poverty map of India look like?

Around 18% of households in India don’t own any of the assets listed on the census form – that means no phone, no TV or radio, and no bicycles or other vehicles of any kind. The map below colour-codes districts according to the proportion of such households in each districts. Lighter-coloured districts are ‘better off’ – fewer such households exist in those areas. Darker-coloured districts are ones with the highest proportion of such ‘asset-less’ households.

To me, the most striking aspect of this map are the clusters or belts of both poverty and ‘affluence’ (remember, affluence is a very, very relative term here – if you own a mobile phone, you are among the better-off households). Districts with less than 16% of asset-less households occupy a big chunk of north India from Punjab, to Haryana, right up to central Uttar Pradesh. Other clusters of such ‘better-off’ districts are in the South, and in the West.

(hover your mouse over a district to see its associated data. Lighter-coloured districts are better off and darker coloured districts are worse off)

Correspondingly, belts of poverty are fewer- the biggest one stretches from Southern Rajasthan and takes in a big chunk of Madhya Pradesh, but also covers parts of Maharashtra and a district in Gujarat (the predominantly tribal district of The Dangs). There are other smaller clusters in the North East and in the East.

As a point of comparison with our measure (18% households across India), the official poverty rate in the country in 2009-10 was around 30%. So another way to think of our measure is as one which covers the ‘poor among the poor’.

The broader point I guess I want to make is that it doesn’t seem to make too much sense to talk off-handedly about ‘richer’ and ‘poorer’ states. Inequality within states, especially poorer ones, are substantial (though it’s worth noting the substantial inequalities that exist even within an ‘affluent’ state like Maharashtra). We will continue to look at such inequalities in greater detail in future posts.


Specifically, the assets listed in the census tables are as follows:radio, TV, computers(with and without internet connections),phones, bicycles, and motorised two-wheelers and four-wheelers.

The map of India used above is based on 2011 census districts, but is most emphatically not ‘georeferenced’. I took it from here. It is also pretty much the only effort, that I can find online, to create a vector map which is compatible with the 2011 census data, and which is open source. It’s generated by this guy.

There is also a problem, I think, with one district in Gujarat ( the white bit), which is not being rendered properly, but am not sure how to fix that.

All data based on the households assets table of the 2011 census.

[Post updated to add the following] – Map colour scheme from ColorBrewer.

As always, I’ve used the D3 javascript library of Mike Bostock. And as always, this is a map that should render well in the latest versions of all browsers, but no guarantees (especially for older versions of IE).

April 9, 2013

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