Proposal preview

Inequality in the Global South: trends, drivers and mechanisms

In recent years the study of inequality has received a revival of interest, of which Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twentieth Century is a striking and influential example. The major theme that emerges from the growing body of literature on inequality, is the calling into question of the once dominant stylized facts first formulated by Simon Kuznets around the middle of the twentieth century. Kuznets postulated an inverted U shape relationship between income inequality and economic growth, with inequality being affected by the reallocation of workers from the traditional agricultural sector to the more advanced, non-agricultural/urban sector. When labour starts to move out of agriculture, inequality is expected to first increase. As development continues, inequality is expected to decline again as more and more people are incorporated into the modern sectors.

The past decade has seen a substantial increase in the number of estimates for inequality for pre-industrial societies, mostly for the West (Alvarez-Nogal and Prados de la Escosura, 2004; 2007; 2013; Alfani, 2010; 2014; Alfani and Ryckbosch, 2016; Reis, 2016; Lindert and Williamson, 2016). This research has amongst other things called into question the timing of increasing inequality, which could be traced to the pre-industrial economy; and it has shown that this Kuznets curve is not necessarily a one-time event but could also consist of recurrent Kuznets waves (van Zanden, 1995; Milanovic, 2016). While all this new evidence is increasing our understanding of pre-industrial inequality trends in the developed world, much remains to be done for other world regions.

Recent work has begun to explore long term inequality trends in the Global South (Bertola et al. 2008; Milanovic, Lindert and Williamson 2011; Marette, 2013; Lopez Jerez, 2014; Rodriguez Weber, 2015; Arroyo Abad and Astorga Junquera (2016), Bolt and Hillbom, 2016; Alfani and Tadei, 2017). But much remains to be done before we understand the trends, drivers and mechanisms of long term inequality in today’s developing world. This session aims to act as a stimulus for people to engage in the study of long term inequality in today’s developing countries by inviting papers presenting both long term inequality estimates for pre-industrial societies in the Global South and work that explicitly furthers our knowledge on the drivers and mechanisms of early inequality in developing regions.


  • Jutta Bolt, University of Groningen, , Netherlands
  • Ellen Hillbom, Lund University,, Sweden
  • Federico Tadei, University of Barcelona,, Spain

Session members

  • Denis Cogneau, Paris School of Economics,
  • Branko Milanovic, City University of New York Graduate Center,
  • Morten Jerven, Norwegian University of Life Sciences,
  • Prince Young Abouagye , Lund University,
  • Sascha Klocke , und University,
  • Calumet Links, Stellenbosch University,
  • Erik Green, Lund University,
  • Federico Tadei, University of Barcelona,
  • Michiel de Haas, Wageningen University,
  • Montserrat Lopez Jerez , Lund University,
  • Pablo Astorga, Institut Barcelona Estudis Internactionals,
  • Facundo Alvaredo, Paris School of Economics,
  • Leticia Arroyo Abad , Middlebury College,
  • Jutta Bolt, University of Groningen,
  • Ellen Hillbom, Lund University,

Proposed discussant(s)

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