Charles Booth poverty

Measuring and conceptualising wealth inequality, including trends over time

Even though wealth inequality has reached an extraordinarily high level, the distribution of wealth is much more opaque than income or occupations. Because it has many different dimensions - housing assets, savings, financial instruments, pensions and such like - it is harder to pin down empirically. The comparative aspects of wealth inequality are especially hard to measure given that different nations frequently have varying ways of measuring wealth. Our researchers are conducting innovative mixed method research using new sources, such as HMRC data, historical probate data, as well as survey analysis and qualitative research to develop our understanding of the comparative and historical dimensions of wealth inequality.


Recent highlights...

Cluster members

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Dr Tania Burchardt
Director of CASE, Deputy Director of STICERD and Associate Professor in the Department of Social Policy at LSE


Dr Neil Cummins
Associate Professor, Department of Economic History LSE


Professor Naila Kabeer
Professor of Gender and Development, Department of Gender Studies LSE


Dr Eleni Karagiannaki
Research Fellow, CASE, LSE


Professor Camille Landais
Professor of Economics, Department of Economics LSE


Liz Mann
PhD candidate, Department of Social Policy LSE


Dr Tahnee Ooms
Research Officer, International Inequalities Institute LSE


Dr Nora Waitkus
Research Officer, International Inequalities Institute LSE



Expand section to find podcasts with cluster members and other academics 

Unbound: How Inequality Constricts Our Economy and What We Can Do About It

Speaker: Heather Boushey (President of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth and former Chief Economist for Hillary Clinton)

Chair: Dr Tahnee Ooms (Researcher, III)

Watch a video of the lecture.

Read the book review.

Download the slides.

The Challenge of Richness? Rethinking the Giant of Poverty - 20 February 2018

Speakers: Dr Tania Burchardt (LSE CASE), Amy Feneck, Dr Sam Friedman (LSE Sociology), Dr Luna Glucksberg (LSE III)

The economic and political power of the richest in our society has dramatically increased since 1942. 75 years on since his report, the panel discussed whether Beveridge’s concern with poverty now needs to be extended to include a concern with richness.

Video, see here.

Switching Focus: whose responsibility to improve disabled people's employment and pay?  - Supported by JRF, 28th November 2018

Speakers: Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson DBE (cross-bench peer), Lord Chris Holmes MBE, David Isaac CBE (Chair, Equality and Human Rights Commission) and Liz Sayce (LSE, III)

Chair: Dr Tania Burchardt (LSE, Department of Social Policy)

Links to video and audio: 

Audio, see here    

Video, see here

Intersecting Inequalities and the Sustainable Development Goals: insights from Brazil - 2017

Speaker: Naila Kabeer

Video, see here

From Ideas to Practice: new frontiers in research (III Annual Conference 2017)

Speaker: Naila Kabeer

Video, see here

The Relationship between Inequality and Poverty: mechanisms and policy options - 2017

Speakers: Eleni Karagiannaki and Abigail McKnight

Video, see here

Gender and Everyday Life (Inequality in the 21st Century Conference)- 2015

Speaker: Stephanie Seguino and Naila Kabeer

Video, see here


Expand section to find related topical publications by cluster members and other academics

Taxing Hidden Wealth: The Consequences of U.S. Enforcement Initiatives on Evasive Foreign Accounts

Authors: Niels Johannesen, Patrick Langetieg, Daniel Reck, Max Risch, Joel Slemrod

Summary: In 2008, the IRS initiated efforts to curb the use of offshore accounts to evade taxes. This paper uses administrative microdata to examine the impact of enforcement efforts on taxpayers’ reporting of offshore accounts and income. We find that enforcement caused approximately 50,000 individuals to disclose offshore accounts with a combined value of about $100 billion. Most disclosures happened outside offshore voluntary disclosure programs, by individuals who never admitted prior noncompliance. Disclosed accounts were concentrated in countries often characterized as tax havens. Enforcement-driven disclosures increased annual reported capital income by $2-$4 billion, corresponding to $0.6-$1.2 billion in additional tax revenue.

Experience of multiple disadvantage among Roma, Gypsy and Traveller children in England and Wales (2018)

Authors: Tania Burchardt, Polina Obolenskaya, Polly Vizard and Mario Battaglini 

Keywords: Roma, Gypsy, Traveller, poverty, deprivation, inclusion, integration, ‘data exclusion’ 

Summary: Roma, Gypsy and Traveller children across Europe experience high levels of disadvantage and have repeatedly been identified as a priority in European Commission policy documents, yet they are often missing or invisible in the large-scale statistical analyses of children at risk of poverty and deprivation that drive policy development and monitoring. In this paper we argue that population Censuses, and other administrative sources, many of which already record Roma ethnicity, are under-utilised as a source of robust and comparable data, allowing the scale, intensity and multi-dimensionality of the challenges facing Roma, Gypsy and Traveller children to be investigated and tracked. We illustrate this through the descriptive analysis of secure microdata from the 2011 Census of England and Wales, which included a pre-coded category for ‘Gypsy or Irish Traveller’ for the first time, and to which we add children identified as Roma. Disadvantage in each of four dimensions - housing, household economic activity, education and health - are examined in turn before computing a multiple deprivation count. Nearly a quarter of Roma, Gypsy and Traveller children in England and Wales aged under 19 are deprived on 3 or more dimensions, compared to just two per cent of other children. And conversely, only a small minority (15%) of Roma, Gypsy and Traveller children are not deprived in any dimension, compared to the majority (67%) of all other children. We conclude that data scarcity should no longer be used as an excuse for a lack of effective policymaking: it is both desirable and feasible to exploit Census data, as a step towards tackling the data deficit, and that the results can improve the design of child poverty and Roma, Gypsy and Traveller integration policies.

Inequality, advantage and the capability approach (2017)

Authors: Tania Burchardt, Rod Hick 

Summary: Inequality has acquired a newfound prominence in academic and political debate. While scholars working with the capability approach (CA) have succeeded in influencing the conceptualisation and measurement of poverty, which is increasingly understood in multidimensional terms, recent scholarship on inequality focusses overwhelmingly on economic forms of inequality, and especially on inequalities in income and wealth. In this paper we outline how the conceptual framework of the CA (focusing on ends rather than means, multidimensionality, and recognising the value of freedoms as well as attained functionings) has the potential to enrich the study of distributional inequality through offering a rationale for why inequality matters, exploring the association between different forms of inequality, and providing an analysis of power. But applying the CA in the context of advantage exacerbates some existing challenges to the approach (defining a capability list, and the non-observability of capabilities) and brings some fresh ones (especially insensitivity at the top of the distribution). We recommend a stronger and clearer distinction between concepts and measures. Capability inequality is a more appropriate and potentially revealing conceptual apparatus, but economic resources are likely to remain a crucial metric for understanding distributional inequality for the forseeable future.

Gender Equality, Economic Growth, and Women’s Agency (2015)

Author: Naila Kabeer

Keywords: agency, empowerment, development, growth, inequality, gender

Summary: Macroeconometric studies generally find fairly robust evidence that gender equality has a positive impact on economic growth, but reverse findings relating to the impact of economic growth on gender equality are far less consistent. The high level of aggregation at which these studies are carried out makes it difficult to ascertain the causal pathways that might explain this asymmetry in impacts. Using a feminist institutional framework, this contribution explores studies carried out at lower levels of analysis for insights into the pathways likely to be driving these two sets of relationships and a possible explanation for their asymmetry.

The changing distribution of individual incomes in the UK before and after the recession (2015)

Author: Eleni Karagiannaki and Lucinda Platt

Keywords: income, Great Recession, income distribution, United Kingdom 

Summary: Using pooled data from the Family Resources Survey, this paper addresses the question of which groups gained and which lost in terms of their individual income between 2005-2008 and 2009-20012.

Falling behind, getting ahead: the changing structure of inequality in the UK, 2007-2013 (2015)

Authors: John Hills, Jack Cunliffe, Polina Obolenskaya, Eleni Karagiannaki

Keywords: qualifications, employment, wealth, economic crisis, United Kingdom 

Summary: This report contains a detailed examination of the qualifications, employment, pay, incomes and wealth of different groups since the economic crisis. It shows that the legacy of the crisis has not fallen evenly. Across a range of outcomes, people in their twenties have lost most, despite higher qualifications than any earlier generation.

Assessing the Impact of Social Mobilization: Nijera Kori and the Construction of Collective Capabilities in Rural Bangladesh (2014)

Authors: Naila Kabeer and Munshi Sulaiman

Keywords: impact assessment, microfinance, social mobilization, collective capabilities, NGOs, Bangladesh

Summary: While Bangladesh has a large and active development non-governmental organization sector, it has undergone a steady process of homogenization, turning from its early focus on social mobilization to a market-oriented service provision model, dominated by microfinance. This article explores the impacts associated with Nijera Kori, one of the few organizations that has retained a commitment to social mobilization, seeking to strengthen the collective capabilities of the poor men and women to protest injustice and demand their rights. The article uses a combination of qualitative and quantitative data to measure the political, economic and social impacts of the organization and to unpack the processes by which the observed changes have occurred.

Paid Work, Women's Empowerment and Inclusive Growth  (2013)

Author: Naila Kabeer, Ragui Assaad, Akosua Darkwah, Simeen Mahmud, Hania Sholkamy, Sakiba Tasneem, Dzodzi Tsikata, and Munshi Sulaiman 

Keywords: gender, growth, education, employment, labour, productivity, health, children, well-being, family, women

Gender Equality and Economic Growth: Is There a Win-Win?  (2013)

Author: Naial Kabeer and Luisa Natali 

Keywords: gender, economic growth, women, education, employment, health, well-being, development, cross-country regression analysis

The Relative Role of Socio-Economic Factors in Explaining the Changing Distribution of Wealth in the US and the UK  (2013)

Authors: Frank Cowell, Eleni Karagiannaki and Abigail McKnight

Keywords: household wealth, wealth inequality, debt, housing assets, age-wealth profiles, decomposition

Summary: The US and the UK experienced substantial increases in net wealth over the period 1994/95—2005/06, largely driven by house price booms in each country. The distribution of these gains across households led to a slight increase in wealth inequality in the US but a substantial fall in inequality in the UK. This paper uses a decomposition technique to examine the extent to which changes in households’ socio-economic characteristics explain changes in wealth holdings and wealth inequality. In both countries it finds that changes in household characteristics had an equalising effect on wealth inequality; moderating the increase in the US and accounting for over one-third of the fall in UK inequality.

Accounting for cross country differences in wealth inequality  (2013)

Authors: Frank Cowell, Eleni Karagiannaki and Abigail McKnight

Keywords: household wealth, wealth inequality, debt, housing assets, educational loans, age-wealth profiles, decomposition

Summary: This paper adopts a counterfactual decomposition analysis to analyse cross-country differences in the size of household wealth and levels of household wealth inequality. The findings of the paper suggest that the biggest share of cross-country differences is not due to differences in the distribution of household demographic and economic characteristics but rather reflect strong unobserved country effects.

Women's economic empowerment and inclusive growth: labour markets and enterprise development  (2012) 

Author: Naila Kabeer

Keywords: women, gender, empowerment, growth, inclusive growth, labour markets, enterprise, development

The Wealth Effect: How Parental Wealth and own Asset-Holdings Predict Future Advantage  in Wealth in the UK: Distribution, Accumulation, and Policy  (2013)

Authors: Abigail McKnight and Eleni Karagiannaki 

Keywords: intergenerational mobility, asset effects, parental wealth, education, employment, earnings, health outcomes 

Summary: This chapter explores the relationship between social mobility and wealth-/asset-holdings. In terms of social mobility, it looks at both intra-generational mobility by looking at own-asset-holdings during early adulthood on later outcomes for employment, earnings, general health, and psychological well-being, and intergenerational mobility by looking at the impact of parental wealth on children’s adult outcomes (age 25) covering education, employment, and earnings. The results suggest strong relationships between parental wealth—particularly housing wealth—and children’s educational outcomes, and—partly through these but also through other routes—on to earnings and employment. Early asset-holding—perhaps the product of the inheritance or lifetime transfer patterns investigated in the previous chapter—is also associated with better later employment prospects and higher earnings, as well as with better later general health and psychological well-being (although patterns vary between men and women).

Working papers

Expand section to view LSE III working papers written by cluster members and other academics

Inequality as Entitlements over Labour

Paul Segal
Working paper 43 - Wealth, Elites and Tax Justice

The modern study of economic inequality is based on the distribution of entitlements over goods and services. But social commentators at least since Rousseau have been concerned with a different aspect of economic inequality: that it implies that one person is entitled to command another person for their own personal ends. I call this inequality as entitlements over labour. I propose to measure entitlements over labour by calculating the extent to which top income groups can afford to buy the labour of others for the purpose of their personal consumption. Unlike standard inequality measures, this measure is not welfarist, but instead has its normative basis in relations of domination, hierarchy and social status between people. I estimate entitlements over labour in three high-inequality and two low-inequality countries and argue that inequality as entitlements over labour is socially and politically salient, capturing a side of inequality neglected by standard measures.

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Hidden wealth

Neil Cummins
Working paper 39 - Wealth, Elites and Tax Justice

Sharp declines in wealth-concentration occurred across Europe and the US during the 20th century. But this stylized fact is based on declared wealth. It is possible that today the richest are not less rich but rather that they are hiding much of their wealth. This paper proposes a method to measure this hidden wealth, in any form. In England, 1920-1992, elites are concealing 20-32% of their wealth. Among dynasties, hidden wealth, independent of declared wealth, predicts appearance in the Offshore Leaks Database of 2013-6, house values in 1999, and Oxbridge attendance, 1990-2016. Accounting for hidden wealth eliminates one-third of the observed decline of top 10% wealth-share over the past century.

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Group rights and gender justice: exploring tensions within an indigenous community in India

Naila Kabeer, Nivedita Narain, Varnica Arora and Vinitika Lal
Working paper 33 - Global Economies of Care

This paper seeks to address some of the tensions identified in the political literature between group rights, which allows historically marginalized communities some measure of self-governance in determining its own rules and norms, and the rights of marginalized sub-groups, such as women, within these communities.  As the literature notes, community norms frequently uphold patriarchal structures which define women as inferior to men, assign them a subordinate status within the community and cut them off from the individual rights enjoyed by women in other sections of society. 

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Where is the Middle Class? Inequality,Gender and the Shape of the UpperTail from 60 million English Death and Probate Records, 1892-2016

Neil Cummins
Working paper 30 - Wealth, Elites and Tax Justice

This paper analyses a newly constructed individual level dataset of every English death andprobate from 1892-2016. The estimated top wealth shares match closely existing estimates.However, this analysis clearly shows that the 20th century's `Great Equalization' of wealthstalled in mid-century. The probate rate, which captures the proportion of English with anysignificant wealth at death rose from 10% in the 1890s to 40% by 1950 and has stagnated to2016. Despite the large declines in the wealth share of the top 1%, from 73% to 20%, themedian English person died with almost nothing throughout. All changes in inequality after1950 involve a reshuffling of wealth within the top 30%. Further, I find that a log-lineardistribution fits the empirical data better than a Pareto power law. Finally, I show that the topwealth shares are increasingly and systematically male as one ascends in wealth, 1892-1992, but this has equalized over the 20th century.

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Intersecting Inequalities and the Sustainable Development Goals: insights from Brazil

Naila Kabeer and Ricardo Santos
Working paper 14 - Global Economies of Care

The international development community has long been pre-occupied with the reduction of absolute income poverty, relegating concerns with inequality to the margins of its policy agenda. The Millennium Development Goals, for instance, which were adopted by 189 world leaders at the 2000 Millennium Summit, defined the reduction of absolute poverty by 2015 as its overarching goal. However, concerns about the dramatic rise in income inequality across the world have been growing over the last few decades and came to the forefront of public consciousness in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008. At the same time, assessments of national progress on the Millennium Development Goals made it clear that income inequality alone did not explain the distribution of gains and losses across countries. Rather it was the intersection of income inequality, marginalized social identities and, very often, locational disadvantage which led to the systematic exclusion of certain groups. In recognition of this, the Sustainable Development Goals which became the basis of the new post-2015 international development agenda now includes a commitment to the reduction of income and other inequalities, summarized as the principle of ‘leave no one behind’. Our paper uses national data from Brazil between 2002 and 2013 to examine retrospectively how it has performed on some of the indicators relating to the inclusive principles articulated by the SDGs. We have selected this period in Brazil because at a time when income inequalities were rising in most countries of the world, they were declining in Brazil. Our paper examines the extent to which this decline in income inequality was accompanied by a decline in intersecting inequalities and explores some of the economic, political and social explanations given for the country’s performance. 

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