An African Growth Miracle? Or: What do Asset Indices Tell Us About Trends in Economic Performance?


  • Note: We would like to thank Morten Jerven, Derek Blades, two anonymous referees, and participants at the IARIW-SSA Conference in Cape Town, the World Economic History Congress in Cape Town, and the German Development Economics Association Meeting in Bonn, for helpful comments and suggestions.

Correspondence to: Kenneth Harttgen, University of Zürich, Nadel, Voltastrasse 24, 8092 Zürich, Switzerland (


Using changes in the possession of household assets over the past 20 years, several recent papers have argued that economic growth and poverty reduction in Africa was substantially better than suggested by national income data and income poverty statistics, which suffer from well-known weaknesses. We scrutinize these claims and first argue that trends in assets provide biased proxies for trends in incomes or consumption. In particular we show that the relationship between growth in assets and growth in incomes or consumption is extremely weak; instead, we find evidence of asset drift using macro and micro data, which is consistent with the claims we make about possible biases in the use of asset indices. As a result, we find no evidence supporting the claim of an African growth miracle that extends beyond what has been reported in official GDP/capita and consumption figures.