How Many Generations?

The latest volume of Social Indicators from the OECD (April 2019) is a treasure trove for data freaks. I’ve singled out some numbers from countries that interest me, but all the OECD member states — and a few non-members, too — are represented in the tables.

Wealth in the rich industrialized countries, you may be surprised to learn, is far more unequally divided than income. This is true even in egalitarian Scandinavia: the top 10 percent take home barely one-fifth of total income, but they own two-thirds of the wealth. The United States is, as one might expect, near the top (you might consider that the bottom?) on income inequality. The really unsettling number is the portion of wealth that affluent Americans own.

Perhaps the most striking data in the new report is an approximation of intergenerational mobility based on statistical simulation models. The estimate, which takes the form of how many generations of “churn” it takes for those in the bottom 10 percent of the income distribution to reach the middle, is pretty demoralizing. Scandinavia does OK, and one might stretch the point for Australia and Canada. But Germany, France, the United Kingdom and the United States have nothing to brag about.


Joyce Hesselberth/theispot
main topic: Inequality