Increasing Inequality in Transition Economies: Is There More to Come?

Type Working Paper
Title Increasing Inequality in Transition Economies: Is There More to Come?
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2007
This paper decomposes changes in inequality, which has in general been increasing in the transition economies of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, both by income source and socio-economic group, with a view to understanding the determinants of inequality and assessing how it might evolve in the future. The empirical analysis relies on a set of inequality statistics that, unlike “official data”, are consistent and comparable across countries and are based on primary records from household surveys recently put together for the World Bank study “Growth, Poverty and Inequality in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union: 1998-2003” [World Bank (2005b)].
The increase in inequality in transition, as predicted by a number of theoretical models, in practice differed substantially across countries, with the size and speed of its evolution depending on the relative importance of its key determinants, viz., changes in the wage distribution, employment, entrepreneurial incomes and social safety nets. Its evolution was also influenced by policy. This diversity of outcomes is exemplified on the one hand for Central Europe by Poland, where the increase in inequality has been steady but gradual and reflects, inter alia, larger changes in employment and compensating adjustments in social safety nets and, on the other for the Commonwealth of Independent States by Russia, where an explosive overshooting of inequality peaked in the mid-1990s before being moderated through the extinguishing of wage arrears during its post-1998 recovery.
The paper argues that the process of transition to a market economy is not complete and that further evolution of inequality will depend both on (i) transition-related factors, such as the evolution of the education premium, a bias in the investment climate against new private sector firms which are important vehicles of job creation and regional impediments to mobility of goods and labor, as well as increasingly (ii) other factors, such as technological change and globalization. The paper also contrasts key features of inequality in Russia in the context of other transition economies with trends in inequality observed in China where rapid economic growth has been accompanied by a steep increase in inequality. It argues that the latter’s experience is, to a large extent, a developmental, rather than a transition-related phenomenon deriving from the rural-urban divide and is, therefore, of limited relevance for predicting changes in inequality in Russia.

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