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World Economic and Social Survey

The World Economic and Social Survey (WESS) provides objective analysis of pressing long-term social and economic development issues, and discusses the positive and negative impact of corresponding policies.

World Economic and Social Survey 2014
Reducing Inequality for Sustainable Development

The 2014 World Economic and Social Survey notes that the inequality within countries has increased markedly in recent decades. The majority of the world's population lives in countries where inequality in 2010 was higher than it was in 1980. The standardized and updated indicators used in this Survey show that inequality in Asia has increased and has reached levels similar to those in Latin America, so far the region with the highest inequality in the world. Countries in Europe (including the Russian Federation and Eastern European economies in transition) experiences a sharp increase in inequality during the 1990s, whereas countries in Northern America and Oceania have experienced a marked increase in inequality since the 1980s.

On the positive side, there are two regions where within-country inequality has decreased, namely, Latin America and Africa, although considerable uncertainty about inequality trends in Africa remains owing to poor data. Overall, however, the weight of inequality reductions in these regions has not surpassed that of the increases in the other regions.

Public policy actions by national Governments and other stakeholders can have an impact on within-country inequality in particular and hence this is an important starting point for tackling and reducing inequality. The Survey emphasizes that policy frameworks for reducing inequality would need to be designed and implemented in accordance with country-specific circumstances. Reducing inequality in the context of sustainable development may, inter alia, require an integrated employment framework supporting decent jobs; increased progressivity of the tax system; the taxation of negative externalities arising from unsustainable production and consumption patterns; a greater empowerment of women in managing common-property resources, as in other areas of sustainable development; and international tax cooperation involving developing countries.