This commentary focuses on one of the most commonly cited ‘facts’ about UK income inequality – that it has changed little over the last 30 years – and I reflect on how robust that description is.
Let us salute Pascale Bourquin, Mike Brewer and Thomas Wernham (2022) for their thorough and comprehensive description of what has been happening to the UK income distribution over the last half century or more, and the factors underlying these trends. Their chapter will be a landmark reference. Rather than trying to engage with the large number of findings that Bourquin et al. present, in this commentary I focus on one of the most commonly cited ‘facts’ about UK income inequality – that it has changed little over the last 30 years – and I reflect on how robust that description is. There are grounds for arguing that income inequality levels are higher – and the inequality increase over time greater – than conventional approaches indicate. I look at several fundamental issues in inequality measurement related to inequality concepts (e.g., inequality aversion, relative versus absolute inequality, and inequality of opportunity versus outcome), definitions of ‘income’, the income-receiving unit, and the reference period, and related data issues. This is what I mean by getting the measure of inequality.
Cite this as:
Jenkins, S. P. (2022), ‘Getting the measure of inequality’, IFS Deaton Review of Inequalities, https://ifs.org.uk/inequality/getting-the-measure-of-inequality/