The Luxembourg Income Study (LIS) database on which this article is based offers researchers exciting new possibilities for international comparisons based on household income microdata. Among the choices the LIS microdata allows a researcher, e.g. income definition, income accounting unit, etc., is the choice of family equivalence scale, a method for estimating economic well-being by adjusting income for measurable differences in need.
The range of potential equivalence scales that can and are being used in the ten LIS countries and elsewhere to adjust incomes for size and related differences in need span a wide spectrum. The purpose of this paper is to review the available equivalence scales and to test the sensitivity of various income inequality and poverty measures to choice of equivalence scale using the LIS database. The results of our analysis indicate that choice of equivalence scale can sometimes systematically affect absolute and relative levels of poverty; and inequality and therefore rankings of countries (or population subgroups within countries). Because of these sensitivities, one must carefully consider summary statements and policy implications derived from cross-national comparisons of poverty and/or inequality.