The exact causes of (and lessons from) the Great Compression – the decline in US income inequality in the mid-20th century – remain unclear. This column uses census data and changes in law to examine the effect of education across the complete distribution of income. Policies that increased attendance for young children in the late 19th and early 20th centuries appear to have had long-term implications for earnings and inequality, with returns to schooling highest among those at the lower end of the income distribution.
Karen Clay, Jeff Lingwall, Melvin Stephens, 22 April 2017
Ravi Kanbur, Yue Wang, Xiaobo Zhang, 15 March 2017
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.
Finn Tarp, Miguel Niño-Zarazúa, 30 August 2016
Relative inequality has decreased in the last deades but absolute inequality has gone up. In this video, Finn Tarp and Miguel Niño-Zarazúa discuss trends in global inequality. This video was recorded during a UNU-WIDER conference on “Human capital and growth” held in June 2016.
Brian Bell, 17 August 2016
Wage inequality was partly behind the vote for Brexit. In this video, Brian Bell argues that the consequences of Brexit should be evaluated across the income distribution. This video is part of the “Econ after Brexit” series organised by CEPR and was recorded on 14 July 2016.
James Harrigan, Ariell Reshef, Farid Toubal, 06 July 2016
Job polarisation has been documented in many large developed economies over the past two decades. This column shows how the growth of ICT has contributed to these trends. Using French firm-level data, it documents the declining share of middle-wage jobs, and identifies an increase in the share of technology-related jobs as an important contributing factor. Firms with more ‘techies’ are also found to grow faster than less techie-intensive firms.
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.
Alexander Cappelen, Bertil Tungodden, 26 May 2016
What happens in the brain when something is fair or unfair? In this video, Alexander Cappelen and Bertil Tungodden present their research on the effects of fairness on our brains. Using fMRI technology, the neuroeconomics study shows that the brain reacts to unfairness. Income inequalities are perceived as fair if they reflect different work contributions. This video was recorded at the Choice Lab, Norwegian School of Economics, in Bergen.
The Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI) invites submissions of unpublished papers that focus on structural transformation and inclusive growth. Both theoretical and empirical research papers with policy orientation are welcome provided that findings, conclusions, and policy recommendations are based on solid evidence and analysis.
Manuscripts can focus on a group of countries, or individual economies.
The papers should be related to, though not limited to, one of the following topics:
Growth decomposition across the income quantiles1
Structural transformation and growth incidence2
Structural transformation and income inequality
Future of the Kuznets Curve hypothesis3
Structural transformation and livelihood diversification
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.
Branko Milanovic, 24 February 2016
The Kuznets curve was widely used to describe the relationship between growth and inequality over the second half of the 20th century, but it has fallen out of favour in recent decades. This column suggests that the current upswing in inequality can be viewed as a second Kuznets curve. It is driven, like the first, by technological progress, inter-sectoral reallocation of labour, globalisation, and policy. The author argues that the US has still not reached the peak of inequality in this second Kuznets wave of the modern era.
Pablo Fajgelbaum, Amit Khandelwal, 28 November 2015
Recent studies have established a causal link between trade and rising wage inequality. This column suggests there is also a pro-poor bias of trade. In moving from autarky to trade, the relative prices of goods consumed intensively by the poor, such as food, fall more. The gains from opening to trade are estimated at 63% for the 10th percentile of the income distribution and 28% for the 90th percentile.
Claudia Olivetti, Daniele Paserman, 12 November 2015
Intergenerational income mobility is currently not very high in the US compared to other developed countries. This column shows that US intergenerational income equality was high in the 19th century but plummeted between 1900 and 1920. The income-mobility ladder was thus pulled up during the so-called Great Gatsby era.
Florence Jaumotte, Carolina Osorio Buitron, 22 October 2015
Inequality in advanced economies has risen considerably since the 1980s, largely driven by the increase of top earners’ income shares. This column revisits the drivers of inequality, emphasising the role played by changes in labour market institutions. It argues that the decline in union density has been strongly associated with the rise of top income inequality and discusses the multiple channels through which unionisation matters for income distribution.
Robert Lawrence, 15 October 2015
The US debate over income inequality in the 1980s and 1990s focused on the growing disparity between the earnings of the skilled, the unskilled and the super-rich. After the global crash, the decline in labour’s share of national income has been added to these concerns. This column presents an alternative explanation for this decline, arguing that limited substitution possibilities between capital and labour combined with the acceleration in the pace of labour-augmenting technical change raises the effective labour-capital ratio. The policy implications of this alternative explanation are profoundly different from those currently circulating.
Ravi Kanbur, Joseph Stiglitz, 18 August 2015
Growth theories traditionally focus on the Kaldor-Kuznets stylised facts. Ravi Kanbur and Nobelist Joe Stiglitz argue that these no longer hold; new theory is needed. The new models need to drop competitive marginal productivity theories of factor returns in favour of rent-generating mechanism and wealth inequality by focusing on the ‘rules of the game.’ They also must model interactions among physical, financial, and human capital that influence the level and evolution of inequality. A third key component will be to capture mechanisms that transmit inequality from generation to generation.
Philippe Aghion, Ufuk Akcigit, Antonin Bergeaud, Richard Blundell, David Hemous, 28 July 2015
In recent decades, there has been an accelerated increase in top income inequality, particularly in developed countries. This column argues that innovation partly accounts for the surge in top income inequality and fosters social mobility. In particular, the positive effect of innovation on social mobility is due to new innovators.
Bernardin Akitoby, Sanjeev Gupta, Abdelhak Senhadji, 18 July 2015
There has been a heated debate about the effectiveness of fiscal policy as a countercyclical tool but little evidence on how it can support growth. This column shows that fiscal policy can lift medium- and long-term growth in both advanced and developing economies. But all fiscal reforms are not equal in their growth dividend. Successful reforms are often part of a broader reform package and can balance the growth-equity trade-off.
Matthew Kahn, Cong Sun, Siqi Zheng, 08 July 2015
China’s cities suffer from extremely high levels of air pollution, and Chinese consumers spend more than $US100 million on anti-smog products per year. Using recent internet sales data, this column explores how investing in such self-protection products varies for consumers with different income brackets. The urban poor are shown to be less likely to engage in this health-improving strategy. This suggests that cross-sectional income comparisons understate lifetime inequality.
Markus Brückner, Daniel Lederman, 07 July 2015
The relationship between aggregate output and income inequality is central in macroeconomics. This column argues that greater income inequality raises the economic growth of poor countries and decreases the growth of high- and middle-income countries. Human capital accumulation is an important channel through which income inequality affects growth.
Chie Aoyagi, Giovanni Ganelli, Kentaro Murayama, 03 June 2015
Income inequality in Japan has been growing over the past few decades. This column discusses the macroeconomic significance of inclusive growth and its role in the ultimate success of Abenomics. The findings suggest that full implementation of structural reforms – including launching the third arrow of Abenomics – would be necessary to foster growth and increase equality.