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Rigorous empirical research on the socioeconomic effects of AIDS is important for developing appropriate strategies to mitigate impacts and ultimately improve living standards. This paper provides a broad overview of the challenges in studying the impact of the epidemic on individuals, households and economies, drawing examples from existing studies. We start with a discussion of macro-economic studies and argue that they reach vastly different conclusions about the impact of AIDS, depending on what parameter assumptions they make. Whereas microstudies could provide insights into some of these parameters and effects, there are many technical hurdles to overcome. We discuss the use of comparator groups, spillover effects, longitudinal datasets and the time horizons of studies. Under scrutiny of these technical requirements, the existing empirical evidence of the impoverishing effects of AIDS deaths on African households seems unexpectedly limited. After many years of study, large gaps remain in the empirical literature with regard to our understanding of the magnitude and heterogeneity of these impacts. We conclude that the literature thus far has not convincingly shown that AIDS is the main contributor to low levels and high inequities of socioeconomic outcomes in Africa. Demand for research on the causal impact of HIV/AIDS on poverty is only increasing with the scaling up of antiretroviral treatment.