Book Chapter
Explaining income inequality trends

An integrated approach

In large parts of the world, income inequality has been rising in recent decades. Other regions have experienced declining trends in income inequality. This raises the question of which mechanisms underlie contrasting observed trends in income inequality around the globe.

To address this research question in an empirical analysis at the aggregate level, we examine a global sample of 73 countries between 1981 and 2010, studying a broad set of drivers to investigate their interaction and influence on income inequality. Within this broad approach, we are interested in the heterogeneity of income inequality determinants across world regions and along the income distribution. Our findings indicate the existence of a small set of systematic drivers across the global sample of countries. Declining labour income shares and increasing imports from high-income countries significantly contribute to increasing income inequality, while taxation and imports from low-income countries exert countervailing effects.

Our study reveals the region-specific impacts of technological change, financial globalisation, domestic financial deepening and public social spending. Most importantly, we do not find systematic evidence of education’s equalising effect across high- and low-income countries. Our results are largely robust to changing the underlying sources of income Ginis, but looking at different segments of income distribution reveals heterogeneous effects.