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Inequality and Risk

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  • Marcel Fafchamps

Abstract

This paper examines how wealth accumulation and risk sharing affect the evolution of inequality over time. We first assume risk sharing away and examine how inequality evolves over time when agents accumulate an asset. If asset accumulation is unbounded and the asset yields a positive return, inequality converges to single value over time. If the asset yields a zero or negative return (e.g., grain storage), there is no persistent inequality but inequality is nevertheless correlated over time. If wealth yields a positive return but is in finite supply (e.g., land), persistent inequality arises if one agent is more thrifty than the other. Multiple equilibria may obtain. Societies might prevent polarization by closing down markets in such assets. We then introduce risk sharing. With perfect risk sharing, welfare inequality is constant across time. For continued participation to mutual insurance to be voluntary, asset inequality must remain `close` to welfare inequality. With imperfect commitment, the end result is a hybrid situation half-way between the risk sharing model and the pure accumulation model. If risk aversion is high for poor agents but low for rich ones, patronage arises whereby the rich on average take away from the poor.

Suggested Citation

  • Marcel Fafchamps, 2003. "Inequality and Risk," Economics Series Working Papers 141, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:oxf:wpaper:141
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    File URL: http://www.economics.ox.ac.uk/materials/working_papers/paper141.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Stefan Dercon, 2002. "Income Risk, Coping Strategies, and Safety Nets," World Bank Research Observer, World Bank Group, vol. 17(2), pages 141-166, September.
    2. Rogg, Christian, 2006. "Asset Portfolios in Africa: Evidence from Rural Ethiopia," WIDER Working Paper Series 145, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).

    More about this item

    Keywords

    dynamic inequality; poverty dynamics; risk sharing;

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • O16 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Financial Markets; Saving and Capital Investment; Corporate Finance and Governance

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