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Erik Thorbecke

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Erik Thorbecke

Erik Thorbecke
Born (1929-02-17) February 17, 1929
Nationality American
Institution Iowa State University
Cornell University
Field Development Economics
Alma mater Erasmus University Rotterdam
University of California, Berkeley

Erik Thorbecke (b. February 17, 1929) is a development economist. He is a co-originator of the widely used Foster-Greer-Thorbecke poverty measure and played a significant role in the development and popularization of Social Accounting Matrix. Currently, he is H. E. Babcock Professor of Economics, Emeritus, and Graduate School Professor at Cornell University.


Thorbecke was born into a prominent Dutch family. His great-grandfather Johan Rudolf Thorbecke virtually singlehandedly drafted the revision of the Constitution of the Netherlands and served as Prime Minister of the country on three occasions. His father Willem J. R. Thorbecke was a professor and served as an ambassador to China. His mother Madelaine Salisbury's great grandfather Fernando Wood was a Mayor of New York City. He married Charla J. Westerberg in 1954 and is the father of three sons.

Thorbecke spent his early years in Europe. He was a student (1948–51) at the Netherlands School of Economics (now part of Erasmus University Rotterdam) and got his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley in 1957.

He was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Ghent University in 1981.

After teaching at Iowa State University from 1957 to 1973, Thorbecke moved to Ithaca and spent the rest of his professional career at Cornell University. He also served as economic adviser to the National Planning Institute, Lima, Peru (1963–64); associate assistant administrator for program policy USAID, Washington (1966–68); member of the USAID's Research Advisory Committee (1976–81); senior economist at the World Employment Program at the International Labor Office, Geneva, (1972–73); Visiting Professor, Erasmus University Rotterdam (1980–81); Member of Committee on International Nutritional Programs NRC-NAS (1979–81); Director, Program on Comparative Economic Development, Cornell U. (1988–2001), Senior Research fellow, Institute for Policy Reform (1990–97). At Cornell, he was affiliated with the departments of economics (which he chaired in 1974–78), agricultural economics, and nutritional sciences.


Thorbecke's academic contributions have been primarily in the field of development economics. He has authored or edited (often with collaborators) over 25 books and monographs and published over 200 technical articles in professional journals including the American Economic Review, American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Econometrica, Economic Development and Cultural Change, the Economic Journal, Journal of African Economies, Journal of Development Economics, Journal of Policy Modeling, and World Development.

Foster-Greer-Thorbecke Poverty Measure

In 1984, Thorbecke published a seminal article "A Class of Decomposable Poverty Measures" in Econometrica with his former student Joel Greer and another graduate student at Cornell at the time, James Foster. The Foster-Greer-Thorbecke (sometimes referred to as FGT) metric is a generalized measure of poverty within an economy. It combines information on the extent of poverty (as measured by the Headcount ratio, i.e., the proportion of poor in the population), the intensity of poverty (as measured by the Total Poverty Gap) and inequality among the poor (as measured by the Gini and the coefficient of variation for the poor).

FGT measure is widely used. It has been adopted as the standard poverty measure by the World Bank and many UN agencies and is used extensively by researchers doing empirical work on poverty. At one time the FGT measure (the squared poverty gap) was used to allocate inter-regionally funds from the Federal Government in Mexico for educational, health and nutritional programs benefitting the poor. In 2010 the Government of Mexico adopted a multidimensional poverty measure based on a variant of the FGT measure that is to be used in targeting the allocation of social funds to poor households at the municipality level.

Social Accounting Matrix

Thorbecke (along with Graham Pyatt) played a significant role in the development and popularization of the Social Accounting Matrix (SAM). SAMs capture flows of all economic and financial transactions that take place within an economy (regional or national) among and between disaggregated production sectors, factors of production, institutions (including the government and socio-economic household groups) and the rest of the world.


A conference on "Poverty, Inequality, and Development: A Conference in Honor of Erik Thorbecke" was held at Cornell University in 2003. In 2013, a Symposium in his honor on "Growth, Poverty and Inequality: Confronting the Challenges of a Better Life for All of Africa" was organized by the Institute for African Development at Cornell University and the African Economic Research Consortium.

Recent Activities

Since the early nineties, Erik Thorbecke has been closely associated with the African Economic Research Consortium, a "public not-for-profit organization devoted to the advancement of economic policy research and training." He serves as the Chairman of the Thematic Research Group on "Poverty, Income Distribution and Food Security" and has been a coordinator of a number of collaborative research projects.

Selected Publications

  • "The Interrelationship Linking Growth, Inequality and Poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa," Journal of African Economies, 2013.
  • "The Foster-Greer-Thorbecke Poverty Measure Twenty Five Years Later," Journal of Economic Inequality, 2010 (with J. Foster and J. Greer).
  • Exchange and Development; the Anatomy of Economic Transactions, Edward Elgar, 2010 (with P. Cornelisse).
  • The Poor under Globalization in Asia, Latin America and Asia, Oxford University Press, 2010 (with M. Nissanke, eds.).
  • Poverty in Africa; Analytical and Policy Perspectives, University of Nairobi Press, 2009 (with A Fosu and G. Mwabu, eds.).
  • "The Impact of Globalization on the Poor in Latin America, " Economia, 2008 (with M. Nissanke).
  • "The Evolution of the Development Doctrine, 1900–2005" in G. Mavrotos and A. Shorrocks (editors), Advancing Development, Palgrave MacMillan, 2007.
  • "Economic Development, Equality, Income Distribution, and Ethics" in M. Altman (editor), Handbook of Behavioral Economics, M.E. Sharpe, 2006.
  • "A Dual-Dual CGE Model of an Arch-type African Economy: Trade Reform, Migration and Poverty," Journal of Policy Modeling, 2003 (with D. Stifel)
  • "Towards a Stochastic Social Accounting Matrix for Modeling," Economic Systems Research, 2003.
  • "Economic Inequality and Its Socioeconomic Impact," World Development, 2002 (with C. Charumilind).
  • "A Multiplier Decomposition Method to Analyze Poverty Alleviation," Journal of Development Economics, 1996 (with H-S Jung).
  • Adjustment and Equity in Indonesia, OECD Development Centre, 1991 (with collaborators)
  • "A Methodology for Measuring Food Poverty Applied to Kenya," Journal of Development Economics, 1986 (with J. Greer).
  • "A Class of Decomposable Poverty Measures," Econometrica, 1984 (with J. Foster and J. Greer).
  • "Structural Path Analysis and Multiplier Decomposition within a Social Accounting Matrix," Economic Journal, 1984 (with J. Defourny)
  • Planning Techniques for a Better Future, International Labour Office, 1976 (with G. Pyatt).
  • Role of Agriculture in Economic Development, Columbia University Press for the National Bureau of Economic Research, 1968 (ed.)
  • Theory of Quantitative Economic Policy, North Holland Publishing Co, 1966 and 1968 (with K. Fox and J. Sengupta).
  • Theory and Design of Economic Development, Johns Hopkins Press, 1966 (with I Adelman, eds.).
  • "The Impact of the European Economic Community on the Pattern of World Trade," American Economic Review, 1963.
  • The Tendency Towards Regionalization in International Trade, Martinus Nijhoff, 1960.

External links

  • Erik Thorbecke, from the Cornell University
  • Erik Thorbecke: Growth and Roots, by Jacob Kol, Erasmus University
  • [1]
  • Poverty, Inequality, and Development: Conference in Honor of Erik Thorbecke, Cornell University
  • [2]
  • Poverty, Inequality and Development: Essays in Honor of Erik Thorbecke, Alain de Janvry (Editor), Ravi Kanbur (Editor)
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