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

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  • Paulo Silva Lopes

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Paulo Silva Lopes, 2005. "The Disconcerting Pyramids of Poverty and Inequality of Sub-Saharan Africa," IMF Working Papers 05/47, International Monetary Fund.
  • Handle: RePEc:imf:imfwpa:05/47
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Xavier Sala-i-Martin & Arvind Subramanian, 2013. "Addressing the Natural Resource Curse: An Illustration from Nigeria," Journal of African Economies, Centre for the Study of African Economies (CSAE), vol. 22(4), pages 570-615, August.
    2. 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.
    3. Mohsin S. Khan & Stanley Fischer & Ernesto Hernández-Catá, 1998. "Africa; Is This the Turning Point?," IMF Policy Discussion Papers 98/6, International Monetary Fund.
    4. Deininger, Klaus & Squire, Lyn, 1996. "A New Data Set Measuring Income Inequality," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 10(3), pages 565-591, September.
    5. 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.
    6. Xavier Sala-i-Martin, 2002. "The World Distribution of Income (estimated from Individual Country Distributions)," NBER Working Papers 8933, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. 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.
    8. Erwin H Tiongson & Hamid R 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.
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    Cited by:

    1. Patrick Honohan & Thorsten Beck, 2007. "Making Finance Work for Africa," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 6626.
    2. Delfin Go & Denis Nikitin & Xiongjian Wang & Heng-fu Zou, 2007. "Poverty and Inequality in Sub-Saharan Africa: Literature Survey and Empirical Assessment," Annals of Economics and Finance, Society for AEF, vol. 8(2), pages 251-304, November.

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