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Income Inequality in Colonial Africa: Building Social Tables for Pre-Independence Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, and Senegal


  • Guido Alfani
  • Federico Tadei


Today, income inequality in Sub-Saharan Africa is exceptionally high. In this paper, we study whether present-day inequality can be traced back to the colonial period by reconstructing income distributions in a sample of representative colonies. To do so, we use data from colonial records to build new social tables for French colonies in West and Central Africa and we combine them with available information on British colonies in East and Southern Africa. We find that inequality in Africa is not a recent phenomenon. Income inequality was extremely high during the colonial period, in particular because of the huge income differential between Africans and European settlers. Nevertheless, it tended to reduce over time and the post-colonial period is characterized by much lower inequality. Interestingly, the decline of inequality is not necessarily a consequence of independence: the trends toward reduction started under colonial rule. JEL Classification: N17; O43 Keywords: Africa, Inequality, Income Distribution, Development, Extractive Institutions

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  • Guido Alfani & Federico Tadei, 2017. "Income Inequality in Colonial Africa: Building Social Tables for Pre-Independence Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, and Senegal," Working Papers 594, IGIER (Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research), Bocconi University.
  • Handle: RePEc:igi:igierp:594

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    JEL classification:

    • N17 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - Africa; Oceania
    • O43 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - Institutions and Growth

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