Income inequality is high and rising in many countries as the benefits of economic growth are increasingly captured by wealthy minorities. The official measure of income inequality, the Gini Index, records high rates of income inequality for many of the world’s most populated countries. With perfect inequality at 100, Brazil scores 53.4, Mexico 45.4, the USA 41.4, the Philippines 42.3, the Democratic Republic of Congo 42.1, Iran 42, and Turkey 41.9. The bottom 40% of households in all of these countries earn less than 20% of national income, while the top 10% earn more than 30%, according to the World Bank.
But the highest levels of income inequality are found in some of the poorest parts of the world, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. All 10 of the world’s most unequal countries according to the Gini Index are found in these regions, including South Africa (63), Namibia (59.1), Suriname (57.9), Zambia (57.1), Sao Tome and Principe (56.3), the Central African Republic (56.2), Eswatini (54.6), Mozambique (54), Brazil (53.4), and Belize (53.3). In all of these countries the richest 10% of households own more than 40% of national income.
Income inequality is also rising in many countries. The OECD reports that in the last eight years inequality has risen in 15 of 34 OECD countries, including Denmark, Estonia, France, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the USA, causing the overall OECD average to rise. While income inequality is also rising in many countries across Sub-Saharan Africa, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), it is declining in most Latin American countries according to the World Bank.
Low levels of income inequality are no guarantee of thriving societies, but there may be a relationship between more equal societies and human development. 17 of the 20 countries with very low income inequality (i.e. Gini scores below 30) score highly on the Human Development Index, including Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, and Norway. The only highly equal societies scoring poorly on the Human Development Index are Timor-Leste, Iraq, and Kyrgyzstan.