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Trade has been a global force for less poverty and higher incomes

Ana Revenga's picture

In the ongoing debate about the benefits of trade, we must not lose sight of a vital fact. Trade and global integration have raised incomes across the world, while dramatically cutting poverty and global inequality. 

Within some countries, trade has contributed to rising inequality, but that unfortunate result ultimately reflects the need for stronger safety nets and better social and labor programs, not trade protection.

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.

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

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.

Is it harder for children from poor families in rural China to attain education?

Yan Sun's picture
China has achieved unparalleled success in economic growth and poverty reduction since initiating market reform in 1978. But in recent decades, increasing inequality has become a central policy issue (Figure 1), and the goal of ‘harmonious development’ has become a focus of Chinese policy makers. It remains a challenge for China to share its prosperity more equitably.
Figure 1: Poverty and inequality in rural China

Increasingly, inequality within, not across, countries is rising

Jos Verbeek's picture

During the second-half of the last century countries were placed in one of two mutually exclusive camps: north or south, east or west, advanced or emerging, developed or developing. Simple though this categorization of countries had been, it reflected prevailing realities. In 1970, for instance, the global distribution of per capita income showed a clear divide between richer and poorer countries (See Figures 1 and 2). These between-country differences were equally applicable to other development conditions, notably health and education. However, as Hans Rosling emphasized during his last presentation at the World Bank, for the 21st century this binary distinction between countries is outdated. Boundaries between developed and developing regions are less clear today because of the extraordinary social and economic progress achieved in the large majority countries. Global economic activity is less geographically concentrated and increasingly dispersed across production networks that connect metropolitan areas around the world.

The yawning divide between big city and countryside Tanzania

Nadia Belhaj Hassine's picture

Achieving shared prosperity, one of the World Bank’s twin-goals, isn’t just a middle-income country’s preoccupation. It has a special resonance in Tanzania, a US$1,000 per capita economy in East Africa.

Tanzania has seen remarkable economic growth and strong resilience to external shocks over the last decade. GDP grew at an annualized rate of approximately 7 percent.  Yet, this achievement was overshadowed by the slow response of poverty to the growing economy. The poverty rate has remained stagnant at around 34 percent until 2007 and started a slow decline of  about one percentage point per year, attaining 28.2 percent in 2012. To date, around 12 million Tanzanians continue to live in poverty, unable to meet their basic consumption needs, and more than 70 percent of the population still lives on less than US$2 per day. Promoting the participation of the poor in the growth process and improving their living standards remains a daunting challenge.

Does More Income Mobility = Higher Social Welfare?

William Maloney's picture
 Curt Carnemark / World BankIncome mobility is usually considered a good thing. It implies higher social welfare as the ability of individuals to move up and down the income ladder mitigates the impacts of poor income distribution. But it is also true that when income jumps up and down unexpectedly, life becomes riskier and planning, difficult. This is why making a general link between the mobility we observe in the data and welfare is not straightforward.

A common approach used to show high mobility is a low correlation of present and past incomes is captured, for instance, by the Hart index (cov lnyt, lnyt-1). If we assume, as is often done, that an individual’s income is comprised of a transitory component (short-term blips up or down in a self-employed person’s income that we can smooth, or even measurement error), and a permanent component where each income shock is persistent (say, an income loss after an involuntary job change (an AR (1) process with autoregressive coefficient, ρ), then the Hart index can be broken into three parts.