Income inequality is high and rising in many countries as the benefits of economic growth are 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 countries. With perfect inequality at 100, the highest levels of income inequality are actually found in lower income countries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, where all 20 of the world’s most unequal countries are found. In all of these countries the richest 10% of households own 33% or more of national income, according to the World Bank.
Income inequality is also rising in many high-income countries. The OECD reports that 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. Income inequality is also rising in many countries across sub-Saharan Africa, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), but is declining in most Latin American countries according to the World Bank.
While low levels of income inequality are no guarantee of thriving societies, there may be a relationship between more equal societies and human development. Seventeen 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.