Social policies and data

Growing Unequal? Income Distribution and Poverty in OECD Countries


See most recent OECD (2015) In It Together: Why Less Inequality Benefits All

Growing Unequal?

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ISBN Number:

Publication Date:
October 2008

Pages: 310


News release and press material | Country notes 

Did You Know?

Multilingual summaries | How to Obtain this Publication

Data, figures, methods and concepts


Growing Unequal? brings together a range of analyses on the distribution of economic resources in OECD countries. The evidence on income distribution and poverty covers, for the first time, all 30 OECD countries in the mid-2000s, while information on trends extending back to the mid-1980s is provided for around two-thirds of the countries.

The report also describes inequalities in a range of domains (such as household wealth, consumption patterns, in-kind public services) that are typically excluded from conventional discussion about the distribution of economic resources among individuals and households. Precisely how much inequality there is in a society is not determined randomly, nor is it beyond the power of governments to change, so long as they take note of the sort of up-to-date evidence included in this report.



News releases and press material

Country notes


 Growing Unequal 2008 - Country note: Canada 

 France (en Français) + presentation

 Germany (in German)

 Hungary (in Hungarian)

 Italy (in Italian)

 Japan  (in Japanese)

 Mexico (in Spanish)

 New Zealand 

 United Kingdom  

 United States  

  • Visit Beinhaltet Pressematerial, Pressemitteilungen und fact sheets zu Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz, sowie Grafiken und Tabellen.



Did You Know? (income inequality)


 The gap between rich and poor and the number of people below the poverty line have both grown over the past two decades. The increase is widespread, affecting three-quarters of OECD countries. The scale of the change is moderate but significant.

[Table 11.1. Summary of changes in income inequality and poverty]


 Income inequality increased significantly in the early 2000s in Canada, Germany, Norway and the United States. But incomes in Greece, Mexico and the United Kingdom became more equal.

[Figure 1.1. Gini coefficients of income inequality in OECD countries, mid-2000s]

[Figure 1.2. Trends in income inequality]


 The rise in inequality is generally due to the rich improving their incomes relative both to low- and middle-income people.

[Table 1.1. and Table 1.2. Trends in real household income by quintiles, Gains and losses of income shares by income quintiles]

Did You Know? (poverty)


 Around one person in 10 in OECD countries had in income below half of the national median in 2005.

[Figure 5.1. Relative poverty rates for different income thresholds, mid-2000s]


 The risk of poverty for older people has fallen, while poverty of young adults and families with children has risen.

[Table 5.1. Poverty rates for people of working age and for households with a working-age head, by household characteristics]

[Table 5.2. Poverty rates for children and people in households with children by household characteristics]


 Work reduces poverty: child poverty is lower in countries where more mothers work.

[Figure 5.8. Poverty and employment rates, around mid-2000s]

More key facts in the last page
of the Media brief

Income Distribution and Poverty data
in Gapminder Graphs

The Gapminder Graphs allow you to unveil the interactions between income Distribution and Poverty data over time.

You can select any two indicators for the axes in the graph, and the size of bubbles reflect the size of a third indicator of your choice. Then you can play with time. You can select countries and track and compare their performance.

Key features of OECD Data in Income distribution from Annex 1.A1 of Growing Unequal? (OECD, 2008)


Gapminder dynamic chart (by default): do countries have the poverty rate they are prepared to pay for?

 Incomes are more equally distributed and fewer people are poor where social spending is high: the Nordic countries and western European countries, such as Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands. Social spending on people of working age was 7-8% of national income in 2005 and the share of working-age people in poverty was between 5% and 8%.

At the other end of the spectrum, Korea, Mexico, Turkey and the United States spent 2% or less of national income on benefits and had 12-15% of the working age population in poverty.

It is easy to conclude that countries have the poverty rate that they are prepared to pay for. In Mexico and Turkey, higher tax revenues – enabling an expansion of social programmes – would probably reduce inequality and poverty.

But for most OECD countries, the answer is more complex...



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