Inequality of opportunity – international comparisons

Inequality of opportunity is directly linked to income inequality in a range of different countries, finds a new study from an international research forum.

The authors note that methodological problems have so far prevented meaningful international comparisons of this kind. They approach the problem by comparing measures of inequality of economic opportunity across 41 countries (mostly in Europe and Latin America), and linking them to indices of output per head, income inequality and intergenerational mobility.

Key findings

  • An important part of income inequality observed in the world today cannot be attributed to differences in individual efforts or responsibility. On the contrary, it can be directly ascribed to outside factors such as family background, gender, race and place of birth.
  • Inequality of opportunity is positively correlated with overall income inequality – that is, countries with a higher degree of income inequality are also characterised by greater inequality of opportunity.
  • Inequality of opportunity is negatively correlated with measures of intergenerational mobility, both in incomes and in years of schooling.
  • There is evidence for the so-called 'Kuznets curve' for inequality of opportunity – economic development leading first to rising and then to falling inequality.

Source: Paolo Brunori, Francisco Ferreira and Vito Peragine, Inequality of Opportunity, Income Inequality and Economic Mobility: Some International Comparisons, Working Paper 2013-284, ECINEQ: Society for the Study of Economic Inequality
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