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Inside the World Bank’s new inequality indicator: The number of countries with high inequality

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Inside the World Bank’s new inequality indicator: The number of countries with high inequality

The World Bank recently introduced a new key indicator to guide its work: the number of countries with high inequality. This move, which is part of the World Bank’s new vision to end poverty on a livable planet, signifies a strategic shift and recognizes the increasing importance of inequality in the sustainable development dialogue.

Inequality, the uneven distribution of income, consumption, wealth or opportunities among different groups within a society, has long been recognized as a barrier to sustainable development. High levels of inequality can hinder poverty reduction, stunt economic growth, limit access to economic and educational opportunities for individuals, and reduce overall social cohesion within a country. On the flipside, reducing inequality has the potential to spur gains in economic and human capital development. 

The new indicator

The new World Bank indicator on within-country inequality uses the Gini Index of income or consumption as the measure of inequality and classifies countries with a Gini Index greater than 40 as highly unequal. Using the most recent data from the Poverty and Inequality Platform (PIP), the World Bank has identified 52 countries as having high levels of inequality. As the map shows, the countries with high inequality are concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.

Figure 1. Global map of high inequality countries

Two major trends emerge from the analysis of the harmonized household survey data in PIP. First, the number of highly unequal countries has dropped from 77 in 2000 to 52 in 2022. Second, the number of countries with recent data has declined noticeably over the last decade.

In the interactive chart below, one can explore the inequality data further at the global and regional level. Each column represents the classification status of countries in that year, using the most recent household survey at the time. The data in the chart is also disaggregated into recent and old data. We define a country having recent data if there was a household survey within the preceding five years. As an example, in 2022 a country would be grouped in the dark red category – high inequality (old data) – if its most recent Gini coefficient is above 40 and derived from a household survey before 2018. As of 2022, 51 countries’ Gini coefficients (almost one third of all countries) were based on data older than five years.

Figure 2. High inequality over time

The World Bank's new vision is pivotal in addressing the evolving challenges in the development arena, including climate change, global pandemics, and increasing disparities. This inequality indicator, complemented by the other new vision indicators, offer a succinct yet comprehensive overview of progress towards these goals. These indicators serve as a critical yardstick that can inform our understanding of the effectiveness of interventions and guide policy decisions to maximize the impacts on the most vulnerable.

For more information on why inequality matters for ending poverty on a livable planet, the threshold used to define high inequality, and an analysis of high-inequality countries, please see this working paper. For additional visualizations of the World Bank’s inequality data, see this dashboard.


We gratefully acknowledge financial support from the UK Government through the Data and Evidence for Tackling Extreme Poverty (DEEP) Research Program.

Cameron Nadim Haddad

Consultant, Poverty and Equity Global Practice, World Bank

Daniel Gerszon Mahler

Senior Economist, Development Data Group, World Bank

Carolina Diaz-Bonilla

Senior Economist, Poverty and Equity Global Practice, World Bank

Ruth Hill

Lead Economist, Poverty and Equity Global Practice, World Bank

Christoph Lakner

Program Manager, Development Data Group, World Bank

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