Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-nr4z6 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-05-18T22:44:29.625Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

18 - The Distribution of Capabilities

Up, Down, Sideways and Along

from Part II - Methods, Measurement and Empirical Evidence

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 November 2020

Enrica Chiappero-Martinetti
University of Pavia
Siddiqur Osmani
Ulster University
Mozaffar Qizilbash
University of York
Get access


This chapter explores what inequality looks like from the perspective of the capability approach. ‘Sideways’ inequality — that is, inequality between individuals and groups in their risk of experiencing disadvantage — has been central to the capability approach since its inception, and we have tools such as the Equality Measurement Framework with which to systematically assess multidimensional horizontal inequalities. This includes examining differences in outcomes, in how people are treated, and in the autonomy they enjoy. ‘Up and down’ inequality — that is, how people are distributed across the spectrum between advantage and disadvantage, has been much less thoroughly investigated within the capability approach, and there are normative, conceptual and empirical issues to be resolved. In comparison to an exclusive focus on income and other economic resources, analysis of multidimensional vertical inequality is likely to alter who is understood to be most advantaged, how much advantage they have (the degree of stretch), and the extent of concentration of advantage in the distribution as a whole. Finally, inequality ‘along’ the dimension of time has become an important component of research on income inequality, and there are analogous questions about both short- and long-run capability mobility that we are only just beginning to address.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Alkire, S. and Foster, J. 2011a. ‘Counting and Multidimensional Poverty Measurement’. Journal of Public Economics 95/7–8: 476487.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Alkire, S. and Foster, J. 2011b. ‘Understandings and Misunderstandings of Multidimensional Poverty Measurement’. Journal of Economic Inequality 9/2: 289314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Alkire, S. and Santos, M. 2014. ‘Measuring Acute Poverty in the Developing World: Robustness and Scope of the Multidimensional Poverty Index’. World Development 59: 251274.Google Scholar
Alkire, S., Bastagli, F., Burchardt, T., Clark, D., Holder, H., Ibrahim, S., Muñoz, M., Terrazas, P., Tsang, T. and Vizard, P. 2009. Developing the Equality Measurement Framework: Selecting the Indicators. Equality and Human Rights Commission Research Report 31. London: EHRC.Google Scholar
Bane, M. and Ellwood, D. 1986. ‘Slipping Into and Out of Poverty: The Dynamics of Spells’. Journal of Human Resources 21: 123.Google Scholar
Berlin, I. 1969. ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’, in Berlin, I. Four Essays on Liberty. Oxford University Press: 118172 (‘Two Concepts of Liberty’ first published 1958).Google Scholar
Burchardt, T. 2009. ‘Agency Goals, Adaptation and Capability Sets’. Journal of Human Development and Capabilities 10/1: 319.Google Scholar
Burchardt, T. 2014. ‘Deliberative Research as a Tool to Make Value Judgements’. Qualitative Research 14/3: 353370.Google Scholar
Burchardt, T. and Holder, H. 2012. ‘Developing Survey Measures of Inequality of Autonomy in the UK’. Social Indicators Research 106/1: 125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Burchardt, T. and Vizard, P. 2011. ‘“Operationalizing” the Capability Approach as a Basis for Equality and Human Rights Monitoring in Twenty-First-Century Britain’. Journal of Human Development 12/1: 91119.Google Scholar
Burchardt, T., Evans, M. and Holder, H. 2014. ‘Public Policy and Inequalities of Choice and Autonomy’. Social Policy and Administration 49/1: 4467.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Burchardt, T., Le Grand, J. and Piachaud, D. 1999. ‘Social Exclusion in Britain 1991–1995’. Social Policy and Administration 33/3: 227244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Chambers, R. 2014. Into the Unknown: Explorations in Development Practice. Brighton: Practical Action Publishing.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Corak, M. (ed.). 2004. Generational Income Mobility in North America and Europe. Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
CPAN (Chronic Poverty Advisory Network). 2014. The Chronic Poverty Report 2014–2015: The Road to Zero Extreme Poverty. London: Overseas Development Institute.Google Scholar
Dannefer, D. 2003. ‘Cumulative Advantage/Disadvantage and the Life Course: Cross-Fertilizing Age and Social Science Theory’. Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences 58B/6: S327S337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
EHRC. 2010. How Fair Is Britain? The First Triennial Review. London: Equality and Human Rights Commission.Google Scholar
EHRC 2015. Is Britain Fairer? The State of Equality and Human Rights 2015. London: Equality and Human Rights Commission.Google Scholar
Frankfurt, H. 2015. On Inequality. Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Graham, L., Moodley, J. and Selipsky, L. 2013. ‘The Disability–Poverty Nexus and the Case for a Capabilities Approach: Evidence from Johannesburg, South Africa’. Disability and Society 28/3: 324337.Google Scholar
Hick, R. 2016. ‘The Coupling of Disadvantages: Material Poverty and Multiple Deprivation in Europe Before and After the Great Recession’. European Journal of Social Security 19: 229.Google Scholar
Hills, J., Brewer, M., Jenkins, S., Lister, R., Lupton, R., Machin, S., Mills, C., Modood, T., Rees, T. and Riddell, S. 2010. An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK: Report of the National Equality Panel. CASE report 60. London School of Economics.Google Scholar
Hills, J., Cunliffe, J., Obolenskaya, P. and Karagiannaki, E. 2015. Falling Behind, Getting Ahead: The Changing Structure of Inequality in the UK, 2007–2013. Social Policy in a Cold Climate, Research Report 5. London: Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion and London School of Economics.Google Scholar
Ibrahim, S. 2006. ‘From Individual to Collective Capabilities: The Capability Approach as a Conceptual Framework for Self‐Help’. Journal of Human Development 7/3: 397416.Google Scholar
Ibrahim, S. and Alkire, S. 2007. ‘Agency and Empowerment: A Proposal for Internationally Comparable Indicators’. OPHI Working Paper No. 4. University of Oxford.Google Scholar
Jackson, B. and Segal, P. 2004. Why Inequality Matters. London: Catalyst.Google Scholar
Jenkins, S. P. and van Kerm, P. 2009. ‘The Measurement of Economic Inequality’, in Salverda, W, Nolan, B and Smeeding, T. M. (eds.). The Oxford Handbook on Economic Inequality. Oxford University Press: 4067.Google Scholar
Kant, I. 2002. Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals (ed. and trans. Wood, A. W.). New Haven: Yale University Press (first published 1785).Google Scholar
Kynch, J. and Sen, A. 1983. ‘Indian Women: Well-Being and Survival’. Cambridge Journal of Economics 7/3–4: 363380.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Lefranc, A., Pistolesi, N. and Trannoy, A. 2008. ‘Inequality of Opportunities vs. Inequality of Outcomes: Are Western Societies All Alike?Review of Income and Wealth 54/4: 513546.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lessman, O. 2016. ‘Is There a Starting Gate to Responsible Adulthood? Childhood, Equality of Opportunity and the Capability Approach’. Journal of Ethical Perspectives 23/4: 709728.Google Scholar
Mukhopadhyay, S. 2011. ‘Using the Mean of Squared Deprivation Gaps to Measure Undernutrition and Related Socioeconomic Inequalities’. Journal of Human Development and Capabilities 12/4: 535556.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nussbaum, M. 2000. Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach. Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
OECD. 2010. PISA 2009 Results: Overcoming Social Background – Equity in Learning Opportunities and Outcomes, vol. II. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Available at: (accessed 24 February 2020).Google Scholar
Ok, E. A. and Kranich, L. 1998. ‘The Measurement of Opportunity Inequality: A Cardinality-Based Approach’. Social Choice and Welfare 15: 263287.Google Scholar
Peruzzi, A. 2014. ‘Understanding Social Exclusion from a Longitudinal Perspective: A Capability-Based Approach’. Journal of Human Development and Capabilities 15/4: 335354.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Robeyns, I. 2003. ‘Sen’s Capability Approach and Gender Inequality: Selecting Relevant Capabilities’. Feminist Economics 9/2–3: 6192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Robeyns, I. 2016. ‘Capabilitarianism’. Journal of Human Development and Capabilities 17/3: 397414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Roche, J. M. 2008. ‘Monitoring Inequality among Social Groups: A Methodology Combining Fuzzy Set Theory and Principal Component Analysis’. Journal of Human Development and Capabilities 9/3: 427–452.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Selvam, S. 2008. ‘Capabilities Approach to Youth Rights in East Africa’. International Journal of Human Rights 12/2: 205214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sen, A. 1999. Development as Freedom. Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Sen, A. 2006. Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny. London: Allen Lane.Google Scholar
Sen, A. 2012. ‘Foreword’, in Elson, D, Fukuda-Parr, S and Vizard, P (eds.). Human Rights and the Capabilities Approach: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue. London: Routledge: xixviii.Google Scholar
Seth, S. and Alkire, A. 2014. ‘Measuring and Decomposing Inequality Among the Multidimensionally Poor Using Ordinal Data: A Counting Approach’. OPHI Working Paper No. 68. University of Oxford.Google Scholar
Stewart, F. 2005. ‘Groups and Capabilities’. Journal of Human Development 6/2: 185204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stewart, F. 2009. ‘Horizontal Inequality: Two Types of Trap’. Journal of Human Development and Capabilities 10/3: 315340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Terzi, L. 2008. ‘Capability and Educational Equality: The Just Distribution of Resources to Students with Disabilities and Special Educational Needs’. Journal of Philosophy of Education 41: 757773.Google Scholar
van Hees, M. 2010. ‘The Specific Value of Freedom’. Social Choice and Welfare 35/4: 687–703.Google Scholar
Wang, X., Zhou, L. and Shang, X. 2015. ‘Child Poverty in Rural China: Multidimensional Perspective’. Asian Social Work and Policy Review 9/2: 109124.Google Scholar
Wolff, J. and de-Shalit, A. 2007. Disadvantage. Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats