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 (above 40) of income inequality for many of the world’s most populated countries, including China (42.2), the USA (41.5), Brazil (51.3), Nigeria (43), Mexico (43.4), the Democratic Republic of Congo (42.1), 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.
The highest levels of income inequality are found in some of the poorest parts of the world, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and Central and South America. All 15 of the world’s most unequal countries (Gini scores above 50) are found in these regions, including South Africa (63), Botswana (60.5), Namibia (59.1), Suriname (57.6), Zambia (57.1), the Central African Republic (56.2), Lesotho (54.2), Mozambique (54), Belize (53.3), Eswatini (51.5), Brazil (51.3), Colombia (50.8), Panama (50.4), Guinea-Bissau (50.7), and Honduras (50). In all of these countries, with the exception of Panama and Honduras, 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 Central and South America, 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 the Kyrgyz Republic.