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inequality

Measuring inequality isn’t easy or straightforward - Here’s why

Christoph Lakner's picture

This is the third of three blog posts on recent trends in national inequality.

In earlier blogposts on recent trends in inequality, we had referred to measurement issues that make this exercise challenging. In this blogpost we discuss two such issues: the underlying welfare measure (income or consumption) used to quantify the extent of inequality within a country, and the fact that estimates of inequality based on data from household surveys are likely to underreport incomes of the richest households. There are a number of other measurement challenges, such as those related to survey comparability, which are discussed in Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2016 – for a focus on Africa, also see Poverty in a Rising Africa, published earlier in 2016.

Recent trends in national inequality – some encouraging signs though no room for complacency

Christoph Lakner's picture
This is the second of three blog posts on recent trends in national inequality.
 

The previous blog post in this series described the trend in the global and regional averages of national inequality for the period 1988-2013. Now we dig deeper into the trends in inequality at the country level. We describe changes in national inequality during two periods – around 1993 to 2008 and around 2008 to 2013. The long-run spells include all countries for which we have data on inequality around 1993 and 2008, and that data is computed using the same welfare measure (income or consumption). The short-run spells include countries for which we have inequality data around 2008 to 2013; this list is based on the World Bank’s Global Database of Shared Prosperity.

For the people, by the people: How inclusive design can help tackle extreme poverty

Patrick Kabanda's picture
The Obinju Climate-Smart Farm in Kenya was designed by an agriculture scientist to create solutions to common problems faced by the local farming community, including an unpredictable rainy season.

A museum is probably not the most obvious place to examine global inequality, but something is happening at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City that deserves a good look.

Inequality in the typical country in the last 25 years – a strong increase followed by a recent decline

Christoph Lakner's picture

Also available in: Español | Français
This is the first of three blog posts on recent trends in national inequality.

Inequality has featured prominently in the public debate in recent times. Media outlets highlight the apparent surge in the incomes of the richest, many books have been written on this issue, and numerous academic studies have attempted to assess the nature and magnitude of inequality over time. Most studies of inequality focus on the extent of inequality within a country; this makes sense since most policies operate at this level, too. Despite the attention this issue has received, it has been constrained by the quality of data on inequality. Household surveys collected by national authorities around the world are the most readily available source of data on inequality. However, compiling and harmonizing household surveys from different countries is extremely difficult as they are not always collected consistently or frequently enough. It is also well-known that household surveys often fail to capture the top tail of the distribution, as we will discuss in more detail in a future blog.  

Let’s take on inequality seriously, seriously

Mario Negre's picture

Also available in: Español | Français

As we worked on a new World Bank flagship report that provides the latest and most accurate estimates on trends in global poverty and shared prosperity, it became apparent as to what we wanted for the title - Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2016: Taking on Inequality.

Because in our minds it became clear that inequality is becoming increasingly critical to meeting the World Bank’s goals of ending poverty and sharing prosperity. In fact, we find that tackling inequality will make or break the goal of ending poverty by 2030.

An End to Extreme Poverty

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Global Anticorruption blog
International summits come and go, and all too often the promises made at these summits are quickly forgotten, lost in an online catacomb or otherwise hard to track. We at Transparency International are determined that the commitments made by government representatives at last May’s London Anticorruption Summit (648 total commitments by 41 of the 43 participating governments) must not slide into oblivion in this way. That’s why, as Matthew announced in a post earlier this month, we’ve gone through every single country statement and compiled all commitments into one central database, sortable by country, theme, and region. Our goal is for this database to be used by anticorruption advocates and activists to monitor what their countries have committed to, and whether and where they are making progress.
 
Wall Street Journal
The ubiquity of cellphones could allow a rapid expansion of financial services throughout the developing world, with major implications for growth and credit accessibility, a McKinsey & Co. report concludes. “With the technology that’s available today you could provide billions of people and millions of businesses opportunities that don’t exist to them today,” Susan Lund, co-author of the McKinsey Global Institute report on digital finance, said in an interview. The report found that with coordinated action by financial firms, telecommunications companies and developing-country governments, some 1.6 billion people could gain access to financial services by 2025, all without major new expenditures on physical infrastructure.
 

Is inequality underestimated in Egypt? Evidence from housing prices

Roy Van der Weide's picture

Egypt ranks as one of the world’s most equal countries judging by official estimates of income and consumption inequality. Estimates of inequality, like estimates of poverty, are derived from national household surveys that collect detailed income and/or consumption data for a sample of households, assumed to be representative of the country’s population.

Rising divide: why inequality is increasing and what needs to be done

Matthew Wai-Poi's picture
In 2014, the richest 10 per cent of Indonesian households consumed as much as the poorest 54 per cent. Image by Google Maps.




Since the 1990s, inequality has risen faster in Indonesia than in any other East Asian country apart from China. In 2002, the richest 10 per cent of households consumed as much as the poorest 42 per cent. By 2014, they consumed as much as the poorest 54 per cent. Why should we be worried about this trend? What is causing it, and how is the current administration addressing rising inequality? And what still needs to be done?

Inequality is not always bad; it can provide rewards for those who work hard and take risks. But high inequality is worrying for reasons beyond fairness. High inequality can impact economic growth, exacerbate conflict, and curb the potential of current and future generations. For example, recent research indicates that, on average, when a higher share of national income goes to the richest fifth of households, economic growth slows—whereas countries grow more quickly when the poorest two-fifths receive more.

Thomas Piketty on inequality in developing countries (great, but still not enough on politics)

Duncan Green's picture

I heard econ rock star Thomas Piketty speak for the first time last week – hugely enjoyable. The occasion was the annual conference of the LSE’s new International Inequalities Institute, with Piketty headlining. He was brilliant: original and funny, riffing off traditional France v Britain tensions, and reeling off memorable one liners: ‘meritocracy is a myth invented by winners’; ‘It’s difficult to be an honest country in today’s world. Britain used to be an honest country.’

He started with a mea culpa for the lack of attention in his best selling Capital in the 21stCentury to inequality in developing countries. The good news is that he is now putting that right, with research under way on inequality in South Africa, Brazil, the Middle East, India and China. He gave us a preview on the first three.

His overall conclusion? "Official measures vastly underestimate inequality". The most common reason for this is that inequality stats are drawn from household surveys, but samples of households typically miss the few megarich ones, and so underestimate the money at the top. He prefers to use tax and income data, which he has now got access to from governments because of his newfound fame. Even that data doesn’t tell the whole story, as it misses tax evasion, for example, but it’s a step in the right direction.

The income of the world’s poor is going up, but they’re $1 trillion poorer. What’s going on?

Duncan Green's picture

Oxfam number cruncher Deborah Hardoon tries to get her head round something weird – according to the stats, the poorest half of the world is getting poorer even though the incomes of these people are rising.

It has become something of a tradition that in January every year we take a look at the Forbes list of billionaires and the Credit Suisse Global Wealth databook and calculate how many billionaires it takes to have the same amount of wealth as the bottom 50% of the planet. Since we started doing these calculations, we have watched the wealth of the top grow at the same time as the wealth of the bottom 50% has fallen. The data tells us that the bottom 50% have approximately $1 trillion (that’s $1,000 billion) less wealth than they did 5 years ago, whilst the richest 62 have about $0.5 trillion more.

The extremely wealthy are able to accumulate more wealth in a day than a whole factory full of workers could earn in a year. On 21stApril, in a 24 hour period, Carlos Slim made more than $400 million. Thomas Piketty famously points out that the rate of return on capital is higher than the general growth rate, such that capital owners are at a distinct economic advantage.

Meanwhile those 3.6 billion people in the bottom 50% include people in debt, people with nothing and people with a net wealth of up to about $5,000. People with little, no, or negative wealth, especially in developing countries with poor social insurance mechanisms (four out of five people in the bottom 50% live in Africa or Asia – including China and India), will not only find it hard to respond to financial shocks – like a poor harvest or a medical bill, but will also find it much harder to invest in their families’ future. Having little wealth may be concerning, but having less and less wealth year to year is even more worrying.


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