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24 May 2022

Conference – Inequalities in the 21st Century

24 – 25 May | British Academy and online

Inequalities are at the forefront of today’s public and policy debates. The IFS Deaton Review of Inequalities, chaired by Nobel laureate Sir Angus Deaton, is a multi-year interdisciplinary endeavour involving many of the world’s leading thinkers. It is examining when and why inequalities are problematic and when they are not; how different forms of inequality are related; the major forces combining to create inequalities; and the mix of policies that can be used to tackle them. This conference will address these big questions, drawing on the wealth of evidence produced for the Review so far.

You can download the conference programme here. Tickets to attend the conference virtually can be bought from the British Academy website.

Sessions will include:

Why Now?
Panellists: Angus Deaton (Chair), Ben Ansell, Diane Coyle, Robert Joyce and Simon Szreter

Why the particular concern with inequalities now? Is this different from other periods of history, and if so how? Many things (political rights, life years, education, etc) have become more equally distributed, and if you go back far enough then many of these basic things were the preserve of small elites. What trends underlie, or should underlie, heightened concern about inequality now (if any)? A stalling of generation-on-generation progress? The benefits of recent change, such as globalization and technical progress, being too skewed towards a minority? The growth in resources at the very top, among a group who are harder to tax effectively? Are growing wealth disparities undermining some of the promises of meritocracy, or even democracy? How much should we worry about the super elite billionaires, and how much about inequalities between generations? This all depends on which inequalities bother us, and why.

Horizontal inequalities
Panellists: Lucinda Platt (Chair), James Nazroo, Imran Rasul and Debra Satz

Much of the discourse on inequalities is about inequalities between groups – for example, by gender, ethnicity, class and education. How useful is it to look for common underlying bases of inequality across these widely varying sets of circumstances? Does recognising the diversity in experience across groups mean it is hard to say anything about inequalities as a whole? How can policy deal with potential conflicts that may arise relating to claims on different grounds of inequality? In summary, how can we effectively discuss, and respond to, so many dimensions of inequality?

Health and healthcare
Panellists: Lisa Berkman (Chair), Anne Case, Carol Propper and Andrew Steptoe

Inequalities in health and health care are very salient, and have been argued by some to be good indicators of the overall state of a society. How have such inequalities evolved and what can we learn from this, either about the key processes driving health outcomes, or about the challenges we face in society and the economy in general?

Geographic inequalities
Panellists: James Banks (Chair), Ash Amin, Philip McCann and Enrico Moretti

What should concern us about geographic inequalities? Is it primarily the role that spatial factors play in shaping other inequalities (e.g. educational opportunity), or do differences between places per se deserve special concern – and if so why? What about the changing links between places, labour markets and communities? What is the role of place-based policy?

Families, childhood and education
Panellists: Orazio Attanasio (Chair), Naomi Eisenstadt, Alissa Goodman and James Heckman

We know that experiences and outcomes diverge very early in life, including family and community environments and cognitive and socio-emotional skills, and are often further accentuated by differential access to quality education, economic shocks or family breakdown, resulting in very different childhoods and very different prospects as adults. What trends (for instance in wealth inequality, community segregation, family structures and norms, the deterioration of the social fabric) have driven or accentuated these inequalities for young generations? To what extent are they linked to spatial inequality? How can we best design policies on family, early years and education to maximise life chances, especially for those from less advantaged backgrounds?

Productivity, wages and good jobs
Panellists: Richard Blundell (Chair), Oriana Bandiera, Steve Machin and John van Reenen

What mix of policies towards firms and labour markets can support widespread improvements in productivity, wages and good jobs? How can we balance and combine the roles of the tax and welfare system, labour market regulation, competition policy and innovation policy to move beyond such an exclusive reliance on minimum wages and broaden opportunities for those in both traditional and non-traditional forms of employment? How can we build an agenda that is robust to future shocks such as those from trade and technology?

Future challenges
Panellists: Paul Johnson (Chair), Tim Besley, Melinda Mills, Nick Stern and Jean Tirole

Climate change, demographic change, technological innovation, the impacts of Brexit and the lasting impacts of the pandemic are all likely to create challenges in the coming years and decades. Which challenges of the future are most likely to create or exacerbate inequalities of concern within high-income countries? Has Covid taught us any lessons that we should apply to those challenges? Are there other periods in history that we should learn from?