In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Global Inequalities

  • Introduction
  • The Effects of Inequality

Sociology Global Inequalities
Rob Clark
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 May 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0270


This collection of studies brings together research covering different forms of economic inequality as they exist in a cross-national perspective. Existing work in this area examines income disparities between countries (often characterized by the familiar North-South gap in development), as well as the distribution of income within countries (as is often summarized by the Kuznets Curve or the Great U-Turn). Some of this work is descriptive, examining how levels of development or inequality vary across countries and/or how these levels change over time. Much of it, however, attempts to identify causal factors that contribute to a country’s economic growth, underdevelopment, or changes in its income distribution. Scholars develop models that either focus on internal conditions (institutions, geography, state policy) or external forces (different forms of economic globalization, including international trade, foreign investment, and aid). There has been considerable debate among scholars as to whether income differences between countries are narrowing (i.e., the convergence literature) or not. Less attention is given to whether income distributions among countries are becoming more similar (convergence in inequality levels). In addition, some scholars combine these two pieces of information (i.e., inequality between and within countries) to study world income inequality, with a similar emphasis on description; causal explanation (examining internal and external factors); and debate over whether or not convergence is occurring. Related work examines how national income inequality influences economic growth, intergenerational mobility, poverty, health, violence, and human rights conditions. Theoretically, excessive inequality is thought to slow growth, hinder mobility, and concentrate a greater number of people below the poverty line. A number of scholars design empirical studies that test these assumptions, however, producing results that often confirm these assumptions, but that also offer qualifications to help nuance these arguments. Finally, scholars are now turning their attention to the distribution of wealth, a more immense type of inequality, but one that remains understudied due to the lack of data coverage across time and space. Although this line of research remains in its infancy, scholars should eventually be able to replicate the vast literature on income inequality with a research agenda focused entirely on the global distribution of wealth (and its components parts that exist within and between countries), as well as related work on intergenerational mobility and household poverty as it pertains to asset accumulation.

Inequality Between Countries

This section highlights research that examines inequality between countries. These readings focus on the domestic drivers of uneven development (institutions, colonialism, and geography); the impact of globalization; and the extent to which poorer countries are catching up to wealthier ones.

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