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.

Sandra Sequeira, Nathan Nunn, Nancy Qian, 17 May 2017

Recent empirical studies of the effects of immigration have tended to focus on short-run outcomes. This column considers the longer run by examining how mass migration at the turn of the 20th century has affected US outcomes today. Higher historical immigration between 1860 and 1920 is found to result in significantly better social and economic outcomes today. The results suggest that the long-run benefits of immigration can be large, can persist across time, and need not come at a high social cost.

Thomas Piketty, 07 January 2017

Anthony B. Atkinson passed away on the morning of 1 January 2017 at the age of 72, after a long illness. This column describes how he established a unique place for himself among economists over the past half-decade by putting the question of inequality at the centre of his work while demonstrating that economics is first and foremost a social and moral science, in defiance of prevailing trends. 

John Helliwell, 06 September 2016

Discussions about inequality tend to focus on the distribution of income and wealth. This column argues for a shift in focus towards another source of inequality – subjective wellbeing. Wellbeing inequality has grown significantly for the world as a whole and in eight of the ten global regions. One way to address this inequality is to increase social trust.

Scott Carrell, Mark Hoekstra, Elira Kuka, 25 April 2016

Bad behaviour by peers is well-known to worsen educational outcomes in the short run. This column investigates the long-run effects of peers from families marked by domestic violence. Individual-level US data linking middle and high school test scores, college enrolment, and earnings at ages 24–28 show that students exposed to more disruptive peers experience worse adult outcomes. Policies that mitigate exposure to disruptive peers could pay high dividends.

Markus Poschke, Barış Kaymak, 17 April 2016

Recent decades have seen a remarkable increase in the concentration of wealth in the hands of the wealthiest in the US. This column examines which factors may have driven this increase. The evidence points to higher wage inequality, often attributed to new developments in the technology of production, as the main driving force, followed by tax cuts for top earners and more generous public transfers as secondary factors.

Longfeng Ye, Peter Robertson, 01 February 2016

The World Bank has identified 37 countries as being in a ‘middle-income trap’, but few formal tests of the middle-income trap hypothesis exist. This column presents a new test based on a more nuanced observation that incorporates information on a country’s long-run growth path. Only seven out of 46 middle-income countries are found to be potentially ‘trapped’. Some countries that are usually considered to be trapped may just be growing very slowly.

Daniel Waldenström, 20 December 2015

Recent work on the importance of wealth and capital shows that it has fluctuated grossly over time in Europe. This column examines whether this pattern carries over to smaller, late-industrialising countries by looking at new historical evidence from Sweden. After being low in the pre-industrial era, Swedish wealth levels came into line with the rest of Europe in the 20th century. However, government wealth grew much faster and became more important in Sweden, largely due its public pension system. These findings highlight the role of economic and political institutions in the long-run evolution of national wealth.

Javier Cravino, Andrei Levchenko, 23 November 2015

Large exchange rate swings remain a prominent and recurring feature of the world economy. This column uses household consumption patterns to examine the distributional impact of the devaluation of the peso during Mexico’s ‘Tequila Crisis’. Cost of living increases are found to be 1.25 to 1.6 times higher for the poor compared to the rich. In the interests of equity, exchange rate policy should take account of such distributional impacts.

James Feyrer, Erin Mansur, Bruce Sacerdote, 16 November 2015

Fracking has driven an oil and natural gas boom in the US over the past decade. This column examines the impact these mining activities have had on local and regional economies. US counties enjoy significant economic benefits, including increased wages and new job creation. These effects grow as the geographic radius is extended to include neighbouring areas in the region. The results suggest that the fracking boom provided some insulation for these areas during the Great Recession, and lowered national unemployment by as much as 0.5%.

Terence Cheng, Joan Costa-i-Font, Nattavudh Powdthavee, 31 July 2015

Economists have traditionally viewed healthcare as a luxury good – consumption of it will increase more than proportionally as income rises. This column challenges this view, exploiting the windfall of lottery winnings to estimate elasticities for healthcare demand in the UK. Results suggest that income elasticities for public healthcare services are close to zero. A medium to large windfall is found instead to increase the uptake of private health insurance and preventative services. This suggests that rising incomes will increase private sector demand, but will leave public healthcare demand unchanged.

Fatih Guvenen, Fatih Karahan, Serdar Ozkan, Jae Song, 29 April 2015

Many policy design issues depend crucially on the nature of the idiosyncratic risks to labour income. The earning dynamics literature has typically relied on an implicit or explicit assumption that earnings shocks are log-normally distributed. This column challenges conventional knowledge by bringing in new evidence from a very large administrative dataset on US workers. It presents evidence suggesting income shocks exhibit substantial deviations from log-normality, and that shock persistence depends on income levels as well as the size and sign of the shock.

Tony Atkinson, Salvatore Morelli, 26 March 2014

Inequality – long ignored – is now centre stage in debate about economic policy around the globe. This column introduces the Chartbook of Economic Inequality, a summary of long-run changes in economic inequality for 25 countries over more than 100 years.

Robert Feenstra, Robert Inklaar, Marcel Timmer, 02 September 2013

Why some countries are richer than others is among the most difficult and important questions in economics. Yet, the Penn World Table, widely used to compare living standards across countries, has faced criticism in recent years. This column discusses how the new version of the tables both addresses these criticisms and provides a wider range of tools that will help researchers gain insight into why income differs across countries.

Sambit Bhattacharyya, Jeffrey Williamson, 10 August 2013

What distributional effect do natural-resource booms have on wealth, income and economic power? Using Australia as a case study, this column argues that resource booms tend to exacerbate inequality. The distributional impact of commodity-price shocks in Australia yield important lessons for primary producers from the developmental south, and it’s important for resource-rich developing countries to design appropriate policies to tackle this inequality.

Diego Comin, Martí Mestieri, 28 May 2013

Cross-country inequality is persistent. This column draws on economic history to explain the mechanisms by which dramatic cross-country differences in income emerge. We can reduce inequality through policies that facilitate the penetration of new technologies in poor and middle-income countries. Such policies can go a long way towards reducing existing cross-country income disparities.

Markus Brückner, Mark Gradstein, 04 April 2013

Average income per capita is strongly correlated with more schooling, but this relationship is more complex than it appears. This column presents new research showing that a large part of the correlation is attributed to the causal effect of economic prosperity on the formation of human capital via schooling.

Pierre-Richard Agénor, Otaviano Canuto, Michael Jelenic, 21 December 2012

Many of the emerging economies of the last two decades are now ensnared by ‘the middle-income trap’, in which middle-income countries don’t quite push through to high income status. This column presents recent research suggesting that, if governments act early and decisively to improve access to advanced infrastructure, enhance the protection of property rights, and reform labour markets, trapped economies – like their East Asian counterparts in the 1990s – can push on through.

Tullio Jappelli, Luigi Pistaferri, 02 April 2010

How does consumption respond to a change in income – whether expected or unexpected, temporary or permanent? This column reviews evidence from diverse sources and suggests that if financial market arrangements and liquidity constraints are binding, even changes in income that are predictable can have a significant effect on consumption. This supports the idea that tax changes can have a considerable impact on expenditure.

Andrew Clark, 02 April 2010

Andrew Clark of the Paris School of Economics talks to Romesh Vaitilingam about his research on the relationship between income and health, which examines changes in the health and health behaviours (smoking and drinking) of British people who win prizes in the national lottery. The interview was recorded at the Royal Economic Society’s annual conference at the University of Surrey in March 2010.