COVID-19 and global income inequality

Produced by: 
National Bureau of Economic Research
Available from: 
January 2021
Paper author(s): 
Angus Deaton
Topic: 
Education - Health
Poverty - Inequality - Aid Effectiveness
Year: 
2021

There is a widespread belief that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased global income inequality, reducing per capita incomes by more in poor countries than in rich. This supposition is reasonable but false. Rich countries have experienced more deaths per head than have poor countries; their better health systems, higher incomes, more capable governments and better preparedness notwithstanding. The US did worse than some rich countries, but better than several others. Countries with more deaths saw larger declines in income. There was thus not only no trade-off between lives and income; fewer deaths meant more income. As a result, per capita incomes fell by more in higher-income countries. Country by country, international income inequality decreased. When countries are weighted by population, international income inequality increased, not because the poorest countries diverged from the richest countries, but because China—no longer a poor country—had few deaths and positive economic growth, pulling it away from poor countries. That these findings are a result of the pandemic is supported by comparing global inequality using IMF forecasts in October 2019 and October 2020.

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Research section: 
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