Income inequality since 1820

Michail Moatsos, Joerg Baten, Peter Foldvari, Bas van Leeuwen, Jan Luiten van Zanden

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademic


This chapter focuses on income inequality as measured by gross (i.e. pre-tax) household income across individuals within a country. It builds upon a number of large-scale initiatives to chart income inequality trends over time, supplementing them with data on wages and heights for the earlier period. Income inequality trends follow a U-shape in most Western European countries and the Western Offshoots. It declined between the end of the 19th century until about 1970, followed by a rise. In Eastern Europe, communism resulted in strong declines in income inequality, followed by a sharp increase after its disintegration in the 1980s. In other parts of the world (China in particular) income inequality is on the rise recently. The chapter also provides evidence on the global income distribution, i.e. assuming all people belong to the same community. This distribution was unimodal in the 19th century, became increasingly bi-modal between 1910 and 1970 and suddenly reverted back into a unimodal distribution between 1980 and 2000.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHow Was Life? Global Well-being since 1820
EditorsJan Luiten van Zanden
PublisherOECD Publishing
ISBN (Print)978-92-64-21406-4
Publication statusPublished - 2 Oct 2014
Externally publishedYes

JEL classifications

  • d31 - Personal Income, Wealth, and Their Distributions


  • Income inequality
  • Gini
  • Income distribution
  • global inequality

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