Poverty and income inequality

Thomas Piketty, Li Yang, Gabriel Zucman, 20 July 2017

Between 1978 and 2015, China moved being from a poor, underdeveloped country to the world’s leading emerging economy. But relatively little is known about how the distribution of income and wealth within the country changed over this period. This column presents the first systematic estimates of the level and structure of China’s national wealth since the beginning of the market reform process. The national wealth-income ratio increased from 350% in 1978 to 700% in 2015, driven mainly by the increase of private wealth.

Laurent Bach, Laurent Calvet, Paolo Sodini, 07 July 2017

A growing literature conjectures that wealthy households earn higher average returns, which can further exacerbate wealth inequality. Using Swedish administrative data, this column shows that the wealthy indeed earn higher returns on their asset portfolios. These high returns are primarily due to high levels of compensated risk. Households at the top of the wealth distribution further exhibit highly heterogeneous investment performance due to high levels of idiosyncratic risk.

Olle Hammar, Daniel Waldenström, 03 July 2017

Recent studies have analysed trends in global income inequality, but for most people in the world, labour earnings represent the vast majority of their income. This column uses a new global database on occupational earnings since 1970 to examine trends in earnings inequality between countries’ high- and low- earners, between countries, and between occupational groups. Global earnings inequality has fallen over the past half-century, and so has inequality within occupations, with main equalisation in the late 1990s and 2000s.

Alberto Alesina, Stefanie Stantcheva, Edoardo Teso, 21 June 2017

Americans are generally thought to view the economic system as fair and see wealth as a reward for ability and effort, while Europeans tend to believe that the economic system is unfair, and that wealth is the result of circumstances. This column tests this using new evidence on beliefs about intergenerational mobility in four European countries and the US, and confirms that Europeans do indeed tend to be overly pessimistic about moving up the social ladder compared to reality, while Americans are overly optimistic. These perceptions have important implications for how redistribution and equal opportunity policies will be received.

Wolfgang Keller, Will Olney, 09 June 2017

Growing income inequality has been a hallmark of developed economies over the past few decades. Despite a large empirical literature exploring the determinants of this trend, to date few studies have explored the role of globalisation. Using US data on executive compensation, this column argues that while firm size, technology, and poor governance have all contributed to the growth in top incomes, globalisation is just as important in explaining the trend.

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