Basic Capabilities Index

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The international network Social Watch designed the Basic Capabilities Index (BCI) as an alternative way to monitor the situation of poverty in the world. The BCI does not only look at monetary poverty but measures instead a person’s capabilities of accessing a series of services that are of crucial importance in development goals. The BCI gives thus a complementary view to poverty monitoring measured by the number of people living below the one dollar a day line. The BCI was calculated for 162 countries for 2009, 163 for 2000 and 163 for 1990.

The Indicators

The BCI is the simple average of three indicators measuring access to basic services:

1) Under-Five Mortality Rate

2) Reproductive or maternal-child health

3) Education, measured through:

  • the enrolment in primary education
  • the proportion of children reaching fifth grade

All the indicators are expressed in percentages and they range from 0 to 100. Under five mortality, which is usually expressed in number of deaths per thousand children born alive, is expressed as 100 minus that value. So that, for example, a value of 20 deaths per thousand becomes 2 per cent and, when deducted from 100, a basic index value of 98. Thus, the theoretical maximum value in infant mortality is 100, which would mean that all children born alive survive until they are five years old. Reproductive health takes the maximum value 100 when all women giving birth are attended by skilled health personnel. Similarly, the education indicator registers 100 when all school age children are enrolled in education and they all attain five years of schooling.1 These three indicators are then averaged, so the total value of the index will vary between 0% and 100%.[1]


The BCI is calculated using the non-weighted average of the original values of the three social indicators in question (in the case of infant mortality a lineal transformation was previously
applied to the indicator). To simplify the calculations all three indicators were given the same weight. Child health is represented as I1 = (100 – M), where M is the under-5 mortality rate
(expressed as a percentage) or the probability of death in the first five years of life expressed as per 100 live births. Education is represented as I2, where I2 is the rate of school retention or the
percentage of children enrolled in the first grade who reach the fifth grade. Reproductive health is shown as I3, where I3 is the percentage of births assisted by skilled health personnel (doctors,
nurses or midwives). The Basic Capabilities Index value for a particular country is obtained by taking a simple average of the three components: BCI = (I1 + I2 + I3) / 3.[2]
The lowest empirical value obtained in the BCI was 47 points, and the distribution was heavily concentrated at the upper end of the scale (values near 100). Based on this distribution, five
categories were used to classify countries by their different levels in the BCI: critical, very low, low, medium and high.

So as to be able to categorise countries’ Progress, the Social Watch team applied the following cut-off points: less than one negative standard deviation from the average of evolution (Severe Regression); between one negative standard deviation from the average and -1% of the variation in the rate (Regression); between -1% and 1% of variation in the rate (Stagnation); between 1% of variation in the rate and a standard deviation over the average variation (Slight Progress); and more than one standard deviation over the variation average (Significant Progress).



The 2010 Basic Capabilities Index reporting poverty reduction over the last twenty years has slowed down. The evolution of this index since 2000, when the Millennium Development Goals were set, indicates that progress is decelerating instead of accelerating, and the international community’s efforts have not translated into a more rapid improvement of people’s lives.[3] The 2010 BCI has been calculated for three points in time, with different sources of free access information: 1990, 2000 and 2009. It was calculated for 162 countries for 2009, 163 for 2000 and 163 for 1990. Per capita income growth accelerated from 17% in 1990-2000 to 19% between 2000 and 2009, but BCI growth slowed from 4% in the 1990s to 3% in the first decade of this century.[4]

See also

Childhood Poverty

Access to Services



  1. Social Watch, “The Current Picture as shown by the BCI”, accessed on 27 June, 2011, on;
  2. Bandura, Romina (2008), “A Survey of Composite Indictes Measuring Country Performance: 2008 Updatae”, Office of Development Studies, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Available at:
  3. Social Watch, “The Current Picture as shown by the BCI”, accessed on 27 June, 2011, on;
  4. Social Watch, “The 2010 Basic Capabilities index: Progress has slowed down”, Press Release, accessed on 27 June 2011 on:

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