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International trends in income inequality and social policy


  • Caminada, Koen
  • Goudswaard, Kees


In most OECD-countries income inequality has increased during the last two decades. In this paper, we investigate whether changes in the overall distribution of income can be attributed to social policy measures. For most (but not all) countries we find a possible relationship between changing welfare state policies (as measured by expenditure ratios and replacement rates) and changing income inequality. Especially the United Kingdom and the Netherlands combined an above-average rise in inequality with a reduction in the generosity of the welfare system. A more elaborate budget incidence analysis for the Netherlands indicates that in the period 1981-1997 inequality of disposable household income increased sharply. The two main forces behind this phenomenon were a more unequal distribution of market incomes and changes in social transfers. Fundamental social security reforms in the Netherlands indeed seem to have made the income distribution less equal. However, income inequality in the Netherlands is still below the OECD average at the end of the observed period.

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  • Caminada, Koen & Goudswaard, Kees, 2001. "International trends in income inequality and social policy," MPRA Paper 20181, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:20181

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. A. Bovenberg, 2000. "Reforming Social Insurance in The Netherlands," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 7(3), pages 345-368, May.
    2. 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.
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    6. Robert J. Barro, 1999. "Inequality, Growth, and Investment," NBER Working Papers 7038, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    11. Paolo Figini, 1998. "Inequality Measures, Equivalence Scales and Adjustment for Household Size and Composition," Economics Technical Papers 988, Trinity College Dublin, Department of Economics.
    12. Atkinson, A.B. & Brandolini, A., 2000. "Promise and Pitfalls in the Use of 'Secondary' Data -Sets: Income Inequality in OECD Countries," Papers 379, Banca Italia - Servizio di Studi.
    13. 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.
    14. John P. Formby & W. James Smith & Paul D. Thistle, 1990. "The Average Tax Burden and the Welfare Implications of Global Tax Progressivity," Public Finance Review, , vol. 18(1), pages 3-24, January.
    15. Gottschalk, Peter & Smeeding, Timothy M., 2000. "Empirical evidence on income inequality in industrialized countries," Handbook of Income Distribution,in: A.B. Atkinson & F. Bourguignon (ed.), Handbook of Income Distribution, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 5, pages 261-307 Elsevier.
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    17. Atkinson, Anthony B., 1970. "On the measurement of inequality," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 2(3), pages 244-263, September.
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    19. Anthony B. Atkinson, 2000. "The Changing Distribution of Income: Evidence and Explanations," German Economic Review, Verein für Socialpolitik, vol. 1(1), pages 3-18, February.
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    More about this item


    Social Policy; Income Distribution (Indices); Taxes and Transfers;

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • H55 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Social Security and Public Pensions
    • H22 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Incidence


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