Johanna Wallenius, Max Groneck, 01 June 2017

At the individual level, social security is a strong source of redistribution from rich to the poor in the US, due to the concavity of the pension formula. But this column argues that spousal and survivor benefits, which are important sources of retirement income for women, introduce regressive redistributive elements to social security and also provide incentives for even highly educated women to stay at home if they are married to a high earner. A means-tested minimum benefit would simultaneously increase overall labour supply and reduce inequality, compared to the current system.

Joshua Aizenman, Yothin Jinjarak, Jungsuk Kim, Donghyun Park, 08 January 2016

Daron Acemoglu, Suresh Naidu, Pascual Restrepo, James Robinson, 23 May 2017

Gilles Duranton, Ejaz Ghani, Arti Grover Goswami, William Kerr, 26 May 2016

Branko Milanovic, 16 May 2017

The capital–income ratio continues to rise. This increases interpersonal inequality when three conditions are met (as they are in all rich economies today): the rate of return to capital outstrips that of income, income from capital is concentrated among the rich, and the income source that is less equally distributed is correlated with overall income. This column argues that the third condition is not inevitable, and that policies to share income from capital more equally would decrease overall inequality. We have tools to do this, but policymakers lack the political will.

Rui Luo, 14 May 2017

While the impact of modern technological change on the skill premium has been well explained, there has been no study of the evolution of the skill premium over the very long run. This column reveals that the skill premium in Western Europe declined between 1300 and 1600, and converged to a low and stable level afterwards. Growth and technological change, while stimulating economic development and the transition from a pre-modern era to modern era, reduced wage inequality between different working groups.

Don Fullerton, Nirupama Rao, 03 May 2017

In the 2012 US presidential election, Mitt Romney famously asserted that 47% of the population were long-term dependents of the government – ‘takers’, not ‘givers’ to the system. This column examines this claim using long-spanning household-level data. Even though many households find themselves not paying tax or receiving public benefits in at least some years, only a small fraction consistently pay no tax or consistently receive public transfers.

Ravi Kanbur, Andy Snell, 30 April 2017

Observed inequality has limitations for normative assessment, which raises the question of whether inequality measurement is redundant and should be replaced by the study of the underlying causes of inequality. This column argues that even in the context of the ‘process versus outcomes’ question, overall indices of inequality still maintain their relevance, but now as statistical tests of fairness.

Roberto Ezcurra, Andrés Rodríguez-Pose, 13 April 2017

Spatial inequality is understood as a function of geography or administrative planning, but its relation to ethnic segregation is less well understood. This column analyses this relationship using regional data for 71 countries with different levels of economic development. The degree of spatial concentration of ethnic groups is a robust and highly significant predictor of within-country income disparities. More ethnically segregated countries experience higher levels of spatial inequality and are thus more prone to conflict.

Enrico Rubolino, Daniel Waldenström, 13 April 2017

The link between tax progressivity and the income distribution is the subject of intense debate. This column presents new evidence from tax reforms during the 1980s and 1990s to examine how reduced progressivity affects top income shares. Reduced progressivity boosted top incomes, particularly for those in the top 0.1% of earners. Income tax changes are therefore a plausible candidate for explaining the recent surge in income inequality.

Daron Acemoglu, Pascual Restrepo, 10 April 2017

As robots and other computer-assisted technologies take over tasks previously performed by labour, there is increasing concern about the future of jobs and wages. This column discusses evidence that industrial robots reduced employment and wages between 1990 and 2007. Estimates suggest that an extra robot per 1,000 workers reduces the employment to population ratio by 0.18-0.34 percentage points and wages by 0.25-0.5%. This effect is distinct from the impacts of imports, the decline of routine jobs, offshoring, other types of IT capital, or the total capital stock. 

Andrea Guariso, Thorsten Rogall, 04 April 2017

There is a lively debate about the role of inequality as a trigger of ethnic conflicts. This column reports groundbreaking research into the effect of the amount of regional rainfall on crops, which is used to measure inequality between ethnic groups. Inequality caused by the weather's effect on crops has a large and significant impact on the prevalence of ethnic conflict. This effect is strongest when a lack of rainfall penalises ethnic groups with no access to power. 

Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, Gabriel Zucman, 29 March 2017

The rise of economic inequality is one of today’s most hotly debated issues. But a disconnect between the different data sets used to measure and understand inequality makes it hard to address important economic and policy questions. In this column, the authors highlight the findings from their attempt to create inequality statistics for the US that overcome the limitations of existing data by creating distributional national accounts.

Andrea Brandolini, 27 February 2017

Sir Tony Atkinson, the doyen of inequality economics, passed away in January. This column, by a longstanding friend and co-author, outlines his contributions to the analysis and measurement of inequality – and many other areas of economics, including taxation, social protection, and the welfare state. The ultimate goal of Atkinson’s research was to translate economic analysis into policy actions: economics is a tool for understanding the world and taking informed decisions on policies, but economists must strive to communicate their results beyond the narrow circles of decision-makers, making them accessible for public discussion.

Enrico Spolaore, Romain Wacziarg, 10 February 2017

Since the Industrial Revolution, modern prosperity has spread from its European birthplace to many corners of the world. Yet the diffusion of technologies, institutions and behaviours associated with this process of economic modernisation has been unequal both over space and time. This column, taken from a recent Vox eBook, argues that the divergent historical paths followed by distinct populations led to barriers between them. Although these barriers are deeply rooted, their effect is not permanent and immutable.

Gustavo A. Marrero, Juan Gabriel Rodríguez, Roy Van der Weide, 08 February 2017

Inequality can be both good and bad for growth. Unequal societies may be holding back one segment of the population while helping another. This column exploits US data to argue that inequality affects negatively the future income growth of the poor and positively that of the rich. This relationship is largely driven by inequality of opportunity, which limits the growth prospects at the bottom of the income distribution.  

Ufuk Akcigit, John Grigsby, Tom Nicholas, 02 February 2017

A pressing issue facing policymakers around the globe today is how to generate long-term economic growth through technological innovation. Using a new dataset that matches 19th and 20th century patent records with census data, this column attempts to shed some light on the ‘golden age’ of US innovation. Population density and financial development are found to be important determinants of state innovativeness, while education appears to be the critical input at the individual level. These findings have important implications for innovation policy today.

Daron Acemoglu, James Robinson, 30 January 2017

The immense economic inequality we observe in the world today is the path-dependent outcome of a multitude of historical processes, one of the most important of which has been European colonialism. This column, taken from a recent Vox eBook, discusses how colonialism has shaped modern inequality in several fundamental, but heterogeneous, ways.

Guido Alfani, 15 January 2017

Recent research into the share of wealth owned by the richest households has given us important insights into trends in inequality. This column shows how we can now estimate the share of wealth owned by the richest households in Europe, and how many they numbered, from 1300 to the present day. Throughout this time, the only significant declines in inequality were the result of the Black Death and the World Wars.

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