SAE Motivation

Erradication of poverty is at the center of various public policies in Chile and has guided public policy efforts. The nationwide survey estimate of the poverty rate has declined since the early 1990s suggesting some progress towards this goal. While this result is encouraging, poverty data for comunas are not always available. For a few extremely small comunas, survey estimates of poverty rates are unavailable for some or all time points because of the survey design does not reach that kind of representativity.  Official data source for poverty statistics was the National Socioeconomic Characteristization Survey (CASEN), a survey sponsored every 2 or 3 years by the Ministerio de Desarrollo Social y Familia (referred to as the Ministry). The survey has been carried out regularly since 1987, providing official poverty figures at the national, regional, urban, and rural levels. 

In 2009, the law of the Fondo Común Municipal (FCM) was amended and required the Ministry to provide poverty rate estimates every 2 years for all comunas in the country. Funding to all comunas will be allocated based on such data.   

In 2010, an evaluation by an Expert Commission was carried out on the design of CASEN and concerns were raised on (a) the significant costs associated with sampling almost all comunas in the country, and (ii) the relatively low precision for some comuna level estimates making the planned comparison among comunas and/or across time useless. The Commission recommended for CASEN to (i) reduce the overall sample significantly, (ii) stop the production of comuna level estimates, and (iii) search for alternative data sources such as administrative records or develop a new data collection effort specifically designed for comuna level representation of social indicators of interest for various public policies.

Following the recommendations from the Expert Commission, the Ministry decided to develop a methodology that could take advantage of the Casen data and relevant administrative records available in Chile. Using Casen 2009, the Ministry produced for the first time poverty rate estimates for all 345 comunas in Chile using both standard design-based and the Ministry-PNUD synthetic method. 

Input data

CASEN Survey

A cross-sectional multipurpose household survey designed to understand the socioeconomic conditions of the population and the evaluation of social programs. The survey has been fielded regularly every 2 or 3 years since 1987. Over time, Casen has become the main data source for monitoring the performances of poverty and inequality indicators such as the poverty rate and the Gini coefficient. The survey has been traditionally carried out through face-to-face interview but has moved to mixed-mode in 2020 due to COVID-19.  The mixed mode is sequential with the pre-contact phase in person to build rapport and collect contact numbers. The second stage is telephone interview of the survey. Questionnaire is shortened to keep the phone interview within 30 minutes. The impact of changes of CASEN 2020 on SAE estimate is currently being assessed (as of June 2021).

Information on preparing the CASEN data for SAE was covered in detail by Casas-Cordero, Encina and Lahiri (2016), including extreme weight trimming and transformation.

Comuna level administrative data

Chile has a broad spectrum of administrative data, from different sources. The initial list of auxiliary variables was reviewed by subject matter experts who helped narrowing down the list. See an example of the list of data sources below. Three criteria were used to select auxiliary variables: (1) associated with social and economic conditions that help understand the evolution of the social and economic condition of the comunas; (2) collected and administered by reliable sources, which helps to control measurement errors, and (3) elaborated and published periodically, helps to depict more accurately and timely the phenomenon under study. 

Source: Casas-Cordero, Encina and Lahiri (2016)

Capacity building for SAE production

With the support of UNDP, Professor Partha Lahiri, from the Joint Program in Survey Methodology, was brought on board to help the Ministry in developing SAE methods and performed the following activities:

  • Explained the SAE method to about 60 people from the Ministry and the United Nations, in a two-day workshop. The workshop was very helpful in convincing staff from the Ministry about the use of SAE.
  • Specified the type of input data needed, and skills required for data management and programming.  
  • Worked with a small team of 6 persons (3 Economists from the Ministry and 3 from UNDP) and explained what to do and provided guidance when needed.
  • Every 1-2 months, the small team reconvened and discussed progress through phone calls.

The modality of capacity building or how the international expert supported the project was very helpful.  The expert did not work on the model himself but provided guidance to national staff to complete the entire process from the beginning to the end. Since the first development of Chile poverty SAE statistics, the Ministry’s team has been working constantly in the quality of the estimation through discussions with the Casen expert panel. In particular, since 2019 the Ministry is working with UN-ECLAC Statistics Division to review and update the SAE methodology applied in Chile. 


The main challenges faced in the production of SAE estimates have been related to the strengthening of administrative records indicators to improve synthetic estimates, and, at the same time achieve comparability through the years, the schedule constraints for producing estimates of other indicators that could be relevant at the municipality level, and finally, the dissemination of results through documents that summarize a technically complex process. For the same reason, the Ministry has a permanent agenda on these topics and the support of experts on producing these statistics.


Information provided here is heavily drawn from 

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