Unequal income distribution within countries

Other Names:
Income inequality within countries
Maldistribution of wealth within countries
Regional income polarity
Widening income gulf between rich and poor
Large domestic income range
Polarization of national wage scales

Income distribution in a society is directly related to existing levels of poverty. There are societies in which poverty is generalized and indicators of income distribution, as is logical, show figures of low concentration. In these societies of an agrarian nature, the income indicator is not sufficiently appropriate to cover the concentration of agricultural ownership, and inequality in matters not directly connected with the distribution of product through systems of monetary income. In the industrialized and industrializing societies, however, income concentration always brings relative poverty in the lower group or groups. It has been shown statistically that when there are very sharp increases in income concentration and inequality, immediate outbreaks of poverty occur. This is what has happened in many of the developed countries in the last decade as a consequence of adjustment processes and cutbacks in social programmes. Income concentration leaves one sector of society in a relatively defenceless situation and thus in growing conditions of poverty. Very often these are the same people as the groups subject to most discrimination in societies, either by reason of their sex (women heads of households), age (old people and children), ethnic group (migrants, indigenous peoples and minorities), race or other derived forms of discrimination such as education. Poverty and destitution are understood in this report as phenomena related and in some cases concomitant with poor international and national income distribution.

Government tax legislation which favours the rich - for instance, by taxing income from capital less than income from labour - is one of the contributing factors to the increasing gap. Globalization also plays a large part, by encouraging a shift in low-skilled jobs from the industrialized countries to the developing world. Deregulation, with fewer state provisions governing wages, job security and benefits, has a similar effect: the income gap is the greatest in the USA and the UK, where deregulation of the labour market is the most extensive.

The resentment of the poor at this widening gulf between rich and poor can result in aggressive and even violent behaviour against (wealthy) individuals. This in turn prompts the affluent to create their own neighbourhoods, in the form of isolated enclaves, in order to protect themselves and their property. They may set up parallel health and education systems, and organize their own security forces. Thus the gap is reinforced and widened still further.


Since the end of the 1970s, the gap between the income level of the wealthiest inhabitants of a country and that of the poorest has been widening. The incomes of the rich have grown more rapidly than average and those of the poor less rapidly. In fact, in most countries the incomes of the poor have declined in absolute terms.

There is not one single trend in internal income distribution. Although the predominant trend accompanying the globalization of economies is towards the concentration of income, there are numerous special cases in a position to depart from this trend, which shows and clearly expresses the role that is and can be played by the State in these matters. The economic policy measures each State adopts determine the type of insertion of their national economy in relation to the international economy.





If the wealthiest 20% in the UK lost a fifth of their disposable income, then the incomes of the poorest 20% could be doubled.


Counter Claim:

It can be argued that there is no direct relationship between income distribution and poverty. Taken to the absurd, it could be argued that while primitive societies are very poor they are also very egalitarian. No-one with an adequate sense of history finds it strange to realize that inequity of incomes is a substantial part of the development of modern and industrial societies. But in order to talk of inequality and equality it is necessary to be clear that absolute economic equality does not exist and is not desirable and that it is not sound anthropology to make a critique of inequality and poverty from the supposedly romantic viewpoint of "total equity".


Problem Type:
D: Detailed problems
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic GrowthGOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal
Date of last update
22.05.2019 – 16:36 CEST