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The Disconcerting Pyramids of Poverty and Inequality of Sub-Saharan Africa

  • Paulo Silva Lopes
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    Poverty and inequality in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) should not be ascertained only on the basis of scarce and unreliable income distribution statistics, but should also take into account social conditions. Recent, widely disseminated claims that poverty and inequality have increased over the past 30 years are based on regional income estimates with falling medians and rising upper variances over that period. Graphically, this translates into pyramid-shaped income distributions that, perversely, shift to the left and widen over time. However, during the same period social indicators improved significantly (if insufficiently), and we argue in this paper that such a trend represents progress with social equity in SSA. This point is illustrated through the configuration of alternative "social pyramids" that move for most of the last 30 years in the right direction. However, more recently, social indicators are being set back by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which will generate greater and more dehumanizing poverty in the years ahead even if meaningful economic growth is achieved. As underscored by the multiplicity of "pyramid" representations, poverty and inequality time trends in SSA can thus best be described as disconcerting in that they remain arguably illusive and definitely disturbing.

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    Paper provided by International Monetary Fund in its series IMF Working Papers with number 05/47.

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    Length: 23
    Date of creation: 01 Mar 2005
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    Handle: RePEc:imf:imfwpa:05/47
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    1. Xavier Sala-i-Martín & Arvind Subramanian, 2003. "Addressing the natural resource curse: An illustration from Nigeria," Economics Working Papers 685, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
    2. Sahn, David E. & Stifel, David C., 2003. "Progress Toward the Millennium Development Goals in Africa," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 31(1), pages 23-52, January.
    3. repec:imf:imfpdp:9806 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Elsa V. Artadi & Xavier Sala-i-Martin, 2003. "The Economic Tragedy of the XXth Century: Growth in Africa," NBER Working Papers 9865, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Klaus Deininger & Lyn Squire, 1996. "A New Data Set Measuring Income Inequality," CEMA Working Papers 512, China Economics and Management Academy, Central University of Finance and Economics.
    6. Hongyi Li & Lyn Squire & Tao Zhang & Heng-fu Zou, 1999. "A Data Set on Income Distribution," CEMA Working Papers 575, China Economics and Management Academy, Central University of Finance and Economics.
    7. Xavier Sala-i-Martin, 2002. "The world distribution of income (estimated from individual country distributions)," Economics Working Papers 615, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, revised May 2002.
    8. Erwin Tiongson & Hamid Reza Davoodi & Sawitree S. Asawanuchit, 2003. "How Useful Are Benefit Incidence Analyses of Public Education and Health Spending," IMF Working Papers 03/227, International Monetary Fund.
    9. R Greener & K Jefferis & H Siphambe, 2000. "The Impact of HIV/AIDS on Poverty and Inequality in Botswana," South African Journal of Economics, Economic Society of South Africa, vol. 68(5), pages 393-404, December.
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