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Measuring Top Incomes and lnequality in the Middle East: Data Limitations and Illustration with the Case of Egypt


  • Alvaredo, Facundo
  • Piketty, Thomas


This paper discusses the data limitations associated with the measurement of top incomes and inequality in the Middle East, with special emphasis to the case of Egypt. It has been noted that high inequality might have contributed to the Arab spring revolt movement. Some studies have argued however that measured inequality in Middle East countries is not particularly large by international standards, and that popular discontent mostly reflects the perceived level of inequality, and the perceived (un)fairness of the distribution. In this paper we review the evidence and present new estimates. We come with two main conclusions. First, data sources at the national level are insufficient to derive reliable estimates of top income shares in a country like Egypt(or in other Middle East countries). One would need reliable fiscal sources in order to make a precise comparison with other emerging or developed countries. Unfortunately, such sources are lacking in most of the region. Next, and irrespective of these uncertainties on within-country inequalities, there is no doubt that income inequality is extremely large at the level of the Middle East taken as whole-simply because regional inequality in per capita GNP is particularly large. According to our benchmark estimates, the share of total Middle East income accruing to the top 10% income receivers is currently 55% (vs.48% in the United States,36% in Western Europe, and 54% in South Africa). Under plausible assumptions, the top 10% income share could be well over 60%, and the top 1% share might exceed 25% (vs. 20% in the United States,11% in Western Europe, and 17% in South Africa). Popular discontent might reflect the fact that perceptions about inequality and the (un)fairness of the distribution are determined by regional (and/or global) inequality, and not only on national inequality.

Suggested Citation

  • Alvaredo, Facundo & Piketty, Thomas, 2014. "Measuring Top Incomes and lnequality in the Middle East: Data Limitations and Illustration with the Case of Egypt," CEPR Discussion Papers 10068, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  • Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:10068

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Vladimir Hlasny & Paolo Verme, 2018. "Top Incomes and the Measurement of Inequality in Egypt," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 32(2), pages 428-455.
    2. Anthony Atkinson & Thomas Piketty, 2010. "Top Incomes : A Global Perspective," PSE-Ecole d'├ęconomie de Paris (Postprint) halshs-00754875, HAL.
    3. Atkinson, A. B. & Piketty, Thomas (ed.), 2010. "Top Incomes: A Global Perspective," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199286898.
    4. Atkinson, A. B. & Piketty, Thomas (ed.), 2007. "Top Incomes Over the Twentieth Century: A Contrast Between Continental European and English-Speaking Countries," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199286881.
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    Cited by:

    1. Frank A. Cowell & Philippe Kerm, 2015. "Wealth Inequality: A Survey," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 29(4), pages 671-710, September.
    2. Lucas Chancel & Thomas Piketty, 2015. "Carbon and inequality: From Kyoto to Paris Trends in the global inequality of carbon emissions (1998-2013) & prospects for an equitable adaptation fund World Inequality Lab," World Inequality Lab Working Papers halshs-02655266, HAL.
    3. Lucas Chancel & Thomas Piketty, 2015. "Carbon and inequality: From Kyoto to Paris Trends in the global inequality of carbon emissions (1998-2013) & prospects for an equitable adaptation fund World Inequality Lab," Working Papers halshs-02655266, HAL.

    More about this item


    Egypt; inequality; Middle East; top incomes;

    JEL classification:

    • D3 - Microeconomics - - Distribution
    • O53 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Asia including Middle East

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