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Is It All About the Tails? The Palma Measure of Income Inequality-Working Paper 343

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  • Alex Cobham, Andy Sumner

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Abstract

The “Palma” is the ratio of national income shares of the top 10 percent of households to the bottom 40 percent, reflecting Gabriel Palma’s observation of the stability of the “middle” 50 percent share of income across countries so that distribution is largely a question of the tails. In this paper we explore the Palma and corroborate the findings that the middle does indeed hold over time and through various stages of tax and transfers. Further, we find that the Gini is almost completely “explained” by only two points of the distribution: the same income shares which determine the Palma. It thus appears that both the Gini and the Palma, in practice, summarize the same information about the income distribution: but only in the case of the Palma is this explicit. This, we argue, makes the Palma a more useful (and intuitive) measure of inequality for policymakers and citizens to track.

Suggested Citation

  • Alex Cobham, Andy Sumner, 2013. "Is It All About the Tails? The Palma Measure of Income Inequality-Working Paper 343," Working Papers 343, Center for Global Development.
  • Handle: RePEc:cgd:wpaper:343
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    1. Villasenor, JoseA. & Arnold, Barry C., 1989. "Elliptical Lorenz curves," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 40(2), pages 327-338, February.
    2. Nora Lustig & George Gray-Molina & Sean Higgins & Miguel Jaramillo & Wilson Jiménez & Veronica Paz & Claudiney Pereira & Carola Pessino & John Scott & Ernesto Yañez, 2012. "The Impact of Taxes and Social Spending on Inequality and Poverty in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Mexico and Peru: A Synthesis of Results," Working Papers 264, ECINEQ, Society for the Study of Economic Inequality.
    3. Fosu, Augustin Kwasi, 2017. "Growth, inequality, and poverty reduction in developing countries: Recent global evidence," Research in Economics, Elsevier, pages 306-336.
    4. Anthony B. Atkinson & Thomas Piketty & Emmanuel Saez, 2011. "Top Incomes in the Long Run of History," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 49(1), pages 3-71, March.
    5. Shorrocks, Anthony & Wan, Guanghua, 2008. "Ungrouping Income Distributions: Synthesising Samples for Inequality and Poverty Analysis," WIDER Working Paper Series 016, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    6. Sen, Amartya, 1973. "On Economic Inequality," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198281931.
    7. Juan Antonio Duro, 2008. "Cross-country inequalities in welfare and its decomposition by Sen factors: the virtues of the Theil index," Applied Economics Letters, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 15(13), pages 1041-1045.
    8. Benito Frosini, 2012. "Approximation and decomposition of Gini, Pietra–Ricci and Theil inequality measures," Empirical Economics, Springer, vol. 43(1), pages 175-197, August.
    9. José Gabriel Palma, 2006. "Globalizing Inequality: ‘Centrifugal’ and ‘Centripetal’ Forces at Work," Working Papers 35, United Nations, Department of Economics and Social Affairs.
    10. Francesca Greselin & Leo Pasquazzi & Ričardas Zitikis, 2013. "Contrasting the Gini and Zenga indices of economic inequality," Journal of Applied Statistics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 40(2), pages 282-297, February.
    11. Palma, J.G., 2011. "Homogeneous middles vs. heterogeneous tails, and the end of the ‘Inverted-U’: the share of the rich is what it's all about," Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 1111, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.
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    Cited by:

    1. Janský & Kalíšková & Münich, 2016. "Does the Czech Tax and Benefit System Contribute to One of Europe’s Lowest Levels of Relative Income Poverty and Inequality?," Eastern European Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 54(3), pages 191-207, May.
    2. Channing Arndt & Sam Jones & Vincenzo Salvucci, 2015. "When do relative prices matter for measuring income inequality? The case of food prices in Mozambique," The Journal of Economic Inequality, Springer;Society for the Study of Economic Inequality, vol. 13(3), pages 449-464, September.
    3. José Gabriel Palma, 2014. "Has the income share of the middle and upper-middle been stable over time, or is its current homogeneity across the world the outcome of a process of convergence? The 'Palma Ratio' revisited," Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 1437, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.
    4. repec:mes:eaeuec:v:54:y:2016:i:3:p:191-207 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Greselin, Francesca & Zitikis, Ricardas, 2015. "Measuring economic inequality and risk: a unifying approach based on personal gambles, societal preferences and references," MPRA Paper 65892, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    6. repec:gam:jecnmx:v:6:y:2018:i:1:p:4-:d:128699 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Paddy Carter & Alex Cobham, 2016. "Are taxes good for your health?," WIDER Working Paper Series 171, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).

    More about this item

    Keywords

    inequality; Gini coefficient; Palma;

    JEL classification:

    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • I3 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty

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