Sharply increasing inequality became an integral part of the narrative on Chinese development since the beginning of the reform process in 1978. Over the past decade, however, many studies have argued that inequality has been plateauing, or even declining. This column uses several datasets, including household surveys and regional-level government statistics, to show evidence of a mitigation of inequality in the early 21st century, and indeed, declining rates over recent years. Possible drivers of this turnaround are urbanisation, transfer and regulation regimes, and tightening rural labour markets.
Ravi Kanbur, Yue Wang, Xiaobo Zhang, 15 March 2017
Alex Edmans, 23 September 2016
During political campaigns, candidates often set their sights on CEO compensation as a target for potential regulation. This column considers the various arguments for regulating CEO pay and questions whether it is a legitimate target for political intervention. Some arguments for regulation are shown to be erroneous, and some previous interventions are shown to have failed. While regulation can address the symptoms, only independent boards and large shareholders can solve the underlying problems.
Miguel Niño-Zarazúa, Laurence Roope, Finn Tarp, 20 September 2016
Since the turn of the century, income inequality has risen to be among the most prominent policy issues of our time. This column looks at inequality trends in recent decades. While relative global inequality has fallen, insufficient economic convergence, together with substantial growth in per capita incomes, has resulted in increased absolute inequality since the mid-1970s. The inclusivity aspect of growth is now more imperative than ever.
Douglas Campbell, Lester Lusher, 08 September 2016
Growing inequality has been one of the most pressing political issues since the Great Recession. However, there is a relative lack of consensus on the significant drivers of this trend. This column investigates the contribution of globalisation, via international trade, to US inequality. Although trade is found to have had important effects on certain parts of the US labour market in the early 2000s, the growth in US inequality since 1980 can be traced back to Reagan-era tax cuts.
Kurt Mitman, Dirk Krueger, Fabrizio Perri, 30 August 2016
Previous research found that income and wealth inequality had little impact on the aggregate dynamics of consumption, investment and output. This reinforced the idea that we can study downturns in the economy using representative agents. This column argues that household inequality affects both the depth of a recession and the welfare losses of those affected by it. Therefore we should explicitly measure and model household heterogeneity when we consider the impact of business cycle fluctuations and the welfare consequences of economic crises.
Suresh Naidu, Noam Yuchtman, 23 August 2016
Today’s labour market in the US has much in common with that of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Then, as now, there were few government protections for workers, fears over cheap immigrant labour, rapid technological change, and increasing market concentration. This column explores the lessons that can be drawn from the earlier ‘Gilded Age’. The findings suggests that even as markets play a greater role in allocating labour, legal and political institutions will continue to shape bargaining power between firms and workers.
Dalia Marin, 23 June 2016
Income inequality is less severe in Germany than in the US. Part of this is due to CEO pay in the US growing faster than in Germany. This column offers some novel explanations for these observations. From the mid-1990s, Germany began offshoring managerial tasks to Eastern Europe, reducing demand for German managers. In addition Germany offshored skill-intensive jobs to Eastern Europe, reducing the skill premium.
Mikael Elinder, Oscar Erixson, Daniel Waldenström, 20 April 2016
The distributional effect of inherited wealth has been a long-standing question in economics. This column presents new evidence on the issue using population-wide register data from Sweden. The findings show that inheritances decrease wealth inequality but increase the absolute dispersion of wealth. The equalising effect of inheritances is diluted, however, by the fact that less wealthy heirs consume most of their inherited wealth, whereas wealthier heirs tend to save theirs.
Julia Tanndal, Daniel Waldenström, 13 April 2016
Financial deregulation in the US has been shown to be associated with rising income inequality over the past four decades. This column looks at the income effects of financial deregulation in the UK and Japan during the 1980s and 1990s. As in the US, deregulation substantially increased the shares of income going to the very top of the distribution. These findings highlight the importance of financial markets in the evolution of income inequality in society.
Simon Boserup, Wojciech Kopczuk, Claus Kreiner, 11 March 2016
It is often suggested that intergenerational bequests such as inheritances create and perpetuate wealth inequality. This column uses Danish data to explore the effects of bequests on the wealth distribution. While bequests are found to increase the dispersion of absolute wealth inequality, relative inequality declines. These findings suggest that inheritance alone need not increase wealth inequality.
Resul Cesur, Pınar Güneş, Erdal Tekin, Aydogan Ulker, 18 January 2016
The goal of universal health coverage has been pursued by countries in a number of ways, most notably through demand-side policies. In 2005, Turkey extended basic healthcare services to its entire population under a free-of-charge, centrally administered system. This column examines the impact of this supply-side programme on mortality and birth rates. Results show that the program was successful in lowering both mortality and birth rates across provinces, particularly for the most vulnerable populations. These findings provide compelling evidence in favour of providing accessible healthcare services to all citizens.
Mariacristina De Nardi, Giulio Fella, Fang Yang, 22 December 2015
Thomas Piketty’s "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" quantified the evolution of wealth inequality and concentration over time and across a number of countries. This column examines existing macroeconomic models of wealth inequality through the lenses of the facts and ideas in Piketty’s book. It further examines the importance of the mechanism that Piketty champions – post-tax rate of return on capital. Gaps in existing knowledge and directions for future research are identified.
Nicola Borri, Pietro Reichlin, 08 September 2015
Some argue that the increasing wealth-to-income ratios observed in many advanced economies are determined by housing and capital gains. This column considers the growing wealth-to-income ratio in an economy where capital and labour are used in two sectors: construction and manufacturing. If productivity in manufacturing grows faster than in construction – a ‘housing cost disease’ – it has adverse effects on social welfare. Concretely, the higher the appreciation of the value of housing, the lower the welfare benefit of a rising labour efficiency in manufacturing.
Mariacristina De Nardi, 11 July 2015
Wealth inequality is back in the spotlight, but its determinants and the saving behaviour generating it are less clear. This column discusses the mechanisms in dynamic quantitative macro models that give rise to wealth inequality. Different mechanisms give rise to similar observed wealth concentrations, but have very different policy implications. A combination of better empirical analysis and richer models is needed to guide policy.
Kirill Shakhnov, 17 January 2015
The rapid growth of the US financial sector has driven policy debate on whether it is socially desirable. This column examines the trade-off between finance and entrepreneurship, and links the growth of finance to rising wealth inequality. Although financial intermediation helps allocate capital efficiently, people choosing a career in finance do not internalise the negative effect on the pool of talented entrepreneurs. This mechanism can explain the simultaneous growth of wealth inequality and finance in the US, and why more unequal countries have larger financial sectors.
Loukas Karabarbounis, Brent Neiman, 25 November 2014
The share of compensation to labour in gross value added has declined in recent decades for most countries and industries around the world. Recent work has also used the share of compensation to labour in net value added as a proxy for inequality. This column discusses that gross and net labour shares have declined together for most countries since 1975 – an outcome consistent with the worldwide decline in the relative price of investment goods.
Emmanuel Saez, Gabriel Zucman, 28 October 2014
Wealth inequality in the US has followed a U-shaped evolution over the last century – there was a substantial democratisation of wealth from the Great Depression to the late 1970s, followed by a sharp rise in wealth inequality. This column discusses new evidence on the concentration of wealth in the US. Growing wealth disparity is fuelled by increases in both income and saving rate inequalities between the haves and the have nots.
Reto Foellmi, Isabel Martínez, 31 August 2014
Switzerland has had consistently low tax rates and a remarkably stable income distribution, although in the last 20 years the share of top incomes has risen. This column documents that the top 0.01%’s share doubled, meaning Switzerland is similar to European countries in terms of the top 1%’s income share, but closer to the US for higher top incomes. Labour incomes have grown in importance among top income earners. At the same time, however, top incomes have exhibited large and possibly increasing variations over the business cycle.
Odran Bonnet, Pierre-Henri Bono, Guillaume Chapelle, Étienne Wasmer, 30 June 2014
Thomas Piketty’s claim that the ratio of capital to national income is approaching 19th-century levels has fuelled the debate over inequality. This column argues that Piketty’s claim rests on the recent increase in the price of housing. Other forms of capital are, relative to income, at much lower levels than they were a century ago. Moreover, it is rents – not house prices – that should matter for the dynamics of wealth inequality, and rents have been stable as a proportion of national income in many countries.
Thomas Piketty, Gabriel Zucman, 26 September 2013
According to many measures, inequality has been increasing in the developed world and is now approaching prewar levels. Income inequality does not tell the whole story. This column documents the increase in the ratio of private wealth to national income. This macroeconomic change, precipitated by slowing GDP growth, exacerbates the problem of wealth inequality and makes the economy more susceptible to bubbles.