Photo: Aaron Tang

Inequalities – measurement, implications, and influencing change

This project aims both to better understand inequality — how it varies, why it varies, and what the implications of this might be — and provide insight into how to address it.

During the last decades, there has been increasing interest around the world in monitoring, understanding, and addressing inequality, both within and between countries. Addressing inequality is not only a priority for normative reasons, but also given the implications it may have for economic growth and development, peace and stability, governance, and social cohesion. Reducing all types of inequality is now part of the agenda of governments, international organizations, and other international actors. The formulation of SDG 10 is an excellent expression of this, as well as the crucial role of reducing inequalities in achieving other SDGs. This mission, however, still faces important challenges on the research side; for instance with respect to methodologies and available data, especially for low-income countries and long-term analyses.

During the last three decades, UNU-WIDER has played an active role in work in this area, promoting and disseminating research on inequality, and hosting and updating important databases. For example, our World Income Inequality Database (WIID) — the latest revision of which was released in December 2018 — provides the most comprehensive set of income inequality statistics available and is freely downloadable.

The project will map empirical patterns and trends in inequalities and build our understanding of inequality as both an outcome and a causal variable. What factors influence change in inequality, and in turn what does inequality mean for key economic, political, and social outcomes? How might inequality be addressed and more inclusive institutions built? We consider both inequalities between individuals and households (vertical inequality) and inequalities between multiple types of groups (horizontal inequality), including those defined by ethnicity, race, gender, and geographic region. We study inequalities in terms of income, consumption, and wealth, as well as of access to decent employment, access to public services, political power, and social status.

Key questions
  1. How do inequalities vary across countries, within countries, and over time? How do different types of inequalities compare? What are the patterns and trends? What can be done to improve existing cross-national and national data sources? How can the global distribution of income be estimated from the limited available information? How can persistent data gaps and weaknesses be addressed?
  2. What are the implications of inequalities for economic development, structural change and growth, peace and stability, social cohesion, and democratic governance and representation? What are the implications of structural transformation of employment for developing countries and for different population groups? What are the poverty, inequality, and mobility dynamics? What is the relationship between different types of inequality and how do their implications compare? How do institutions and other factors mediate risks related to inequalities?
  3. How do inequalities change? What can be learned from periods of change in inequality, especially with regard to the role of international and domestic policy? What is the range of policy options in addressing inequalities of various types? What is their record of success? How has the political will for such policies and reform processes been built and sustained? How do structural, institutional, and other factors influence reform processes and outcomes?
Watch this space

All papers, data and opinion pieces relating to this project, as well as opportunities to engage will be available on this webpage. In March 2019, UNU-WIDER held a project inception workshop and co-hosted a symposium on ‘Measuring Inequality in the 21st Century’. A UNU-WIDER-UNDESA workshop on inequality will be held in May 2019, bringing together international scholars and actors within the UN community. UNU-WIDER will continue hosting WIID, which will be regularly updated and enhanced to meet the needs of researchers and all those interested in inequality. Other components of the project will be launched later in 2019.

UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

This project centrally addresses SDG 10 (reduce inequality within and among countries). Components of the project speak directly to SDG 16 (effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions), and SDG 5 (gender inequality).