The number of basic appliances and the type of floor in a family home are key indicators of household wealth in rural and remote south-east Asia, according to RMIT research.
Researchers from RMIT University Vietnam have developed a new way of identifying basic indicators of wealth in farming families, after conducting two household surveys in Laos and Vietnam.
The results confirmed that Vietnamese families in rural north-east Vietnam were marginally more prosperous than neighbouring districts in rural north-west Laos.
The research will be of interest to government ministries from across south-east Asia, as well as global aid agencies such as the World Bank.
Assistant Professor Giovanni Merola and Associate Professor Bob Baulch, from RMIT Vietnam's Centre of Commerce and Management, found that consumer durables were the key wealth indicators for rural families.
"The surveys were of 530 households in Thanh Hoa in north-west Vietnam and Huaphanh in north-east Laos," Assistant Professor Merola said.
"Differences in wealth were not indicated by people owning productive assets such as farming equipment and tools but by the ownership of a few basic household appliances such as fans, refrigerators and to a lesser extent, satellite dishes.
"Also, the type of floor in the family home turned out to be a key indicator of a household's wealth.
"These things tell us a lot about the living standard of families in these poor rural areas."
Associate Professor Baulch said it was difficult to measure the wealth of families in these areas through more conventional measures.
"People in Huaphanh don't always use money for transactions, and expensive items such as refrigerators and satellite dishes are rare," he said.
"The number of electric fans owned by households is a good indicator of their prosperity.
"We were interested in comparing Vietnamese and Laotian living standards in such poor and remote rural areas, and applying this new analysis technique to the data from the two household surveys."
Assistant Professor Merola said this type of analysis was useful because it used specific assets to study people's standard of living.
"We think this analysis technique is more efficient than others for analysing this kind of data," he said.
The data included information on the materials used to build family homes, including the type of roof and floor, and the number of other household possessions, including bicycles, motorbikes, cookers, water heaters, televisions and satellite dishes.
Farming equipment and tools were also included in the surveys.
The academics presented their research last year at the Vietnam Economics Association Meeting in Ho Chi Minh City and at the Advances in Business-Related Scientific Research Conference in Rome.
Assistant Professor Merola said the research had received an enthusiastic reception.
"We had some good feedback and hope our new analysis technique will be applied in other areas and countries after publication," he said.
The study will be submitted to the influential publication, The Review of Income and Wealth.