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Redistribution Policy and Inequality Reduction in OECD Countries: What Has Changed in Two Decades?

Author

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  • Herwig Immervoll

    (OECD)

  • Linda Richardson

    (OECD)

Abstract

We use a range of data sources to assess if, and to what extent, government redistribution policies have slowed or accelerated the trend towards greater income disparities in the past 20-25 years. In most countries, inequality among “non-elderly” households has widened during most phases of the economic cycle and any episodes of narrowing income differentials have usually not lasted long enough to close the gap between high and low incomes that had opened up previously. With progressive redistribution systems in place, greater inequality automatically leads to more redistribution, even if no policy action is taken. We find that, in the context of rising market-income inequality, tax-benefit systems have indeed become more redistributive since the 1980s but that this did not stop income inequality from rising: market-income inequality grew by twice as much as redistribution. The redistributive strength of tax-benefit systems weakened in many countries particularly in the most recent decade. While growing market-income disparities were the main driver of inequality trends between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s, reduced redistribution was often the main driver in the ten years that followed. Benefits had a much stronger impact on inequality than social contributions or taxes, despite the much bigger aggregate size of direct taxes. As a result, redistribution policies were often less successful at counteracting growing income gaps at the bottom in the top half of the income distribution. Nous utilisons une série de sources de données afin d'évaluer si, et dans quelle mesure, les politiques de redistribution du gouvernement ont ralenti ou accéléré la tendance vers une aggravation des disparités de revenus dans les 20-25 dernières années. Dans la majorité des pays, l'inégalité parmi les ménages de “non-personnes âgées” s’est élargie pendant la plupart des phases du cycle économique et des épisodes de rétrécissement d’écarts de revenus n'ont généralement pas duré assez longtemps pour réduire l'écart entre les revenus élevés et faibles qui se sont ouverts auparavant. Avec les systèmes de redistribution progressive en place, une plus grande inégalité conduit automatiquement à une plus grande redistribution, même si aucune décision politique n'est prise. Nous constatons que, dans le contexte de la hausse de l’inégalité du revenu du marché, les systèmes socio-fiscaux sont en effet devenus plus redistributifs depuis les années 80 mais cela n'a pas empêché les inégalités de revenu à augmenter : l'inégalité du revenu du marché a augmenté deux fois plus que la redistribution. La force de redistribution des systèmes socio-fiscaux s’est affaiblie dans de nombreux pays, en particulier dans la dernière décennie. Alors que l’augmentation des disparités du revenu du marché a été le principal moteur de l'évolution des inégalités entre les années 80 et 90, la réduction de redistribution était souvent le principal moteur dans les dix ans qui ont suivi. Les bénéfices ont eu un impact beaucoup plus fort sur les inégalités que les cotisations sociales ou les impôts, malgré l’importance plus grande de l’ensemble des impôts directs. En conséquence, les politiques de redistribution ont souvent connu moins de succès à contrecarrer les écarts de revenus croissants au fond dans la moitié supérieure de la répartition des revenus.

Suggested Citation

  • Herwig Immervoll & Linda Richardson, 2011. "Redistribution Policy and Inequality Reduction in OECD Countries: What Has Changed in Two Decades?," OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers 122, OECD Publishing.
  • Handle: RePEc:oec:elsaab:122-en
    DOI: 10.1787/5kg5dlkhjq0x-en
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    income inequality; OECD; redistribution; working age population;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • C81 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Data Collection and Data Estimation Methodology; Computer Programs - - - Methodology for Collecting, Estimating, and Organizing Microeconomic Data; Data Access
    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • H22 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Incidence
    • H55 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Social Security and Public Pensions

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