Spotlight on graduate research: Subjective poverty in Ukraine

olya grs discussion

A glimpse of what our DPhil students are working on, as overheard at our 2018 Graduate Research Student Conference at Wolfson College on 25 May 2018. 

  In the afternoon, second year Social Policy DPhil student Olya Homonchuk presented on: ‘Subjective poverty in Ukraine: Exploring Influential Factors.’ Olya has recently achieved her transfer of status (find out more here about how doctoral studies progress) and is getting ready to start field work in June. 

She started by explaining that subjective poverty is a concept related to but different from self-rated happiness or life satisfaction, as it refers to specifically people labelling themselves as poor. Ukraine is an interesting case study in this regard, because in 2016 74% of Ukrainians  identified as poor in the National Household Survey- virtually no one sees themselves as middle class. 

Why look at subjective poverty? There are insights to be gained from analysing the overlap, or lack of it, between objective and subjective poverty. It sheds light on the importance of  of non-income components of living standards, assets ownership, average health status, employment opportunities, receipt of benefits, etcIt also provides useful insights into the economies of scale, which is especially relevant in the developing country context. And Olya showed that there are lots of unanswered questions in the field. 

It’s a socio-psychologically complex area to research – some people might not feel poor even when they are objectively poor, and vice versa. Ethically it’s complicated too –  Over lunch earlier in the day, Olya discussed the helpful but challenging process of gaining University ethical approval for her field research which she is about to undertake in Ukraine.   

Olya explored a range of contextual factors which are particular to Ukraine, from a variety of post-Soviet influences, to the fact that although there is widespread material poverty, it is one of the two most equal countries in the world in terms of income equality – and there is 100% literacy. She also outlined the disadvantage theory and the notion of insecure functionings she is working with to look at why people feel subjectively poor, and described the methodology for her upcoming fieldwork. 

The format of the conference meant that Olya’s presentation was then discussed by Dr Alexi Gugushvili, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, who raised a range of questions and issues for Olya to respond to. He commented that Ukraine is under-researched in this area, and invited more background on why Ukraine didn’t experience a growth in inequality after the end of communism, as well as further points for Olya to elaborate on or reconsider. He concluded: ‘overall a very impressive project and I wish you good luck.’ There were further questions from the audience about the field work, in particular her recruitment process for her interviews.   

After the conference we caught up with Olya to ask how she found the experience of presenting to her fellow students and faculty members. “Talking though research ideas with peers and senior researchers is very valuable as it clarifies and solidifies your understanding of the issue. The Graduate Research Conference is an excellent initiative."