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Urbanization and Inequality in Asia


  • Ravi Kanbur

    (T. H. Lee Professor of World Affairs, International Professor of Applied Economics and Management, and Professor of Economics at Cornell University)

  • Juzhong Zhuang

    (Deputy Chief Economist, Economics and Research Department of the Asian Development Bank)


This paper provides a quantitative analysis of how the changing dual economic structure and urbanization affect inequality in Asia. Focusing on data for four countries—the Peoples’ Republic of China, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines—the paper asks three questions. First, how much of the past increase in inequality can be attributed to urbanization per se—the rising share of urban population, as opposed to other drivers related to the region's dual economic structure, such as the urban–rural income gap, inequality within the urban sector, and inequality within the rural sector? Second, how might urbanization affect these countries’ inequality in the future as its process continues? Third, moving forward, what is the relative importance of each of these drivers in containing rising inequality in Asia? It is hoped that the framework developed and calculations presented in this paper provide more insights into the dynamics of rising inequality in Asia and can help policy makers prioritize policy actions for confronting it. © 2013 Asian Development Bank and Asian Development Bank Institute.

Suggested Citation

  • Ravi Kanbur & Juzhong Zhuang, 2013. "Urbanization and Inequality in Asia," Asian Development Review, MIT Press, vol. 30(1), pages 131-147, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:tpr:adbadr:v:30:y:2013:i:1:p:131-147

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Anand, Sudhir & Kanbur, S. M. R., 1993. "Inequality and development A critique," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 41(1), pages 19-43, June.
    2. Anand, Sudhir & Kanbur, S. M. R., 1993. "The Kuznets process and the inequality--development relationship," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 40(1), pages 25-52, February.
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    Cited by:

    1. Ravi Kanbur & Yue Wang & Xiaobo Zhang, 2017. "The great Chinese inequality turnaround," Working Papers 433, ECINEQ, Society for the Study of Economic Inequality.
    2. Celia M. Reyes & Christian D. Mina & Ronina D. Asis, 2017. "Inequality of Opportunities Among Ethnic Groups in the Philippines," Working Papers id:11967, eSocialSciences.
    3. Celia M. Reyes & Christian D. Mina & Ronina D. Asis, 2017. "Inequality of opportunities among ethnic groups in the Philippines," WIDER Working Paper Series 154, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    4. Johansson, Anders C. & Wang, Xun, 2014. "Financial sector policies and income inequality," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 31(C), pages 367-378.
    5. Sui Chin Tan & Chong Mun Ho & Vincent Pang, 2016. "Why Has Education Inequality Widened in Sabah, Malaysia?," Economics Bulletin, AccessEcon, vol. 36(1), pages 569-575.
    6. repec:agr:journl:v:4(613):y:2017:i:4(613):p:121-136 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Tuominen Elina, 2016. "Reversal of the Kuznets curve: Study on the inequality–development relation using top income shares data," Working Papers 1610, University of Tampere, School of Management, Economics.
    8. Elina Tuominen, 2015. "Reversal of the Kuznets Curve: Study on the Inequalitys Development Relation Using Top Income Shares Data," WIDER Working Paper Series 036, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    9. Ahmad, Mahyudin, 2016. "Middle income trap and income inequality: Empirical evidence on the distributional effect of economic liberalization and political regime," MPRA Paper 76437, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    10. Lee, Wai Choi & Cheong, Tsun Se & Wu, Yanrui, 2017. "The Impacts of Financial Development, Urbanization, and Globalization on Income Inequality: A Regression-based Decomposition Approach," ADBI Working Papers 651, Asian Development Bank Institute.
    11. G.A. Diah Utari, 2014. "Growth and Inequality in Indonesia: Does Kuznets Curve Hold?," EcoMod2014 7353, EcoMod.
    12. Takahiro Akita, 2017. "Educational Expansion and the Role of Education in Expenditure Inequality in Indonesia Since the 1997 Financial Crisis," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 130(3), pages 1165-1186, February.
    13. Dorji Lethro & Takahiro Akita, 2016. "Education and Expenditure Inequality in Bhutan: An Analysis based on 2007 and 2012 Household Survey Data," Working Papers EMS_2016_12, Research Institute, International University of Japan.
    14. Reyes, Celia M. & Mina, Christian D. & Asis, Ronina D., 2017. "Inequality of Opportunities Among Ethnic Groups in the Philippines," Discussion Papers DP 2017-42, Philippine Institute for Development Studies.
    15. repec:eee:touman:v:46:y:2015:i:c:p:444-453 is not listed on IDEAS
    16. Tan, Sui Chin & Ho, Chong Mun & Pang, Vincent, 2015. "Education inequality: become better or worse?," MPRA Paper 61627, University Library of Munich, Germany.

    More about this item


    inequality; Kuznets curve; turning point; urbanization; Asia;

    JEL classification:

    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • N35 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Asia including Middle East
    • O53 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Asia including Middle East
    • R23 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Household Analysis - - - Regional Migration; Regional Labor Markets; Population


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