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Journal Article

The drivers of income inequality in rich countries


Publication date

Sep 2019


Rising income inequality has recently come centre‐stage as a core societal concern for rich countries. The diagnosis of the forces driving inequality upwards and their relative importance remain hotly contested, notably with respect to the roles of globalization versus technology and of market forces versus institutions and policy choices. This survey provides a critical review and synthesis of recent research. The focus is on income inequality across the entire distribution, rather than only on what has been happening at the very top. We pay particular attention to include what has been learned from the analysis of micro‐data, to ensure that the coverage is not unduly US‐centric and to analyses of the interrelations between the different drivers of inequality. The marked differences in inequality trends across countries and time periods reflect how global economic forces such as globalization and technological change have interacted with differing national contexts and institutions. Major analytical challenges stand in the way of a consensus emerging on the relative importance of different drivers in how income inequality has evolved in recent decades.

Published in

Journal of Economic Surveys

Volume and page numbers

33 , 1285 -1324





Science And Technology, Economics, Income Dynamics, and International Economic Relations


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