Humanity remains deeply unequal despite impressive progress, says UNDP report

29 Jan 2014

image PHOTO: UNDP ARCHIVE

New York, 29 January 2014 – A sustained reduction in inequality requires a shift to more inclusive growth patterns – supported by redistributive polices and changes in social norms – says a report launched today by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark

The richest one percent of the world population owns about 40 percent of the world’s assets, while the bottom half owns no more than one percent. The report
Humanity Divided: Confronting Inequality in Developing Countries shows that if left unchecked, inequality can undermine the very foundations of development and social and domestic peace. 

“Inequalities on today’s levels are unjust, and as demonstrated in this “Humanity Divided” Report, they also impede human progress,” said UNDP Administrator Helen Clark. “The Report explores the causes and consequences of the inequalities which divide us – within and between countries – and argues that there is nothing inevitable about growing inequality.” 

Adjusting for population size, income inequality increased by 11 percent in developing countries between 1990 and 2010. A significant majority of households in developing countries — more than 75 percent of the population — are living today in societies where income is more unequally distributed than it was in the 1990s. 

But high and persistent inequality goes beyond income. 

Despite overall declines in maternal mortality in the majority of developing countries, women in rural areas are still up to three times more likely to die while giving birth than women living in urban centres. Women are also participating more in the work force, but remain disproportionately represented in vulnerable employment and underrepresented among political decision makers, while continuing to earn significantly less than men. 

Evidence from developing countries shows that children in the lowest wealth quintiles were up to three times more likely to die before their fifth birthday than children born in the highest wealth quintiles in some regions. Social protection has been extended, yet persons with disabilities are up to five times more likely than average to incur catastrophic health expenditures. 

High inequality undermines development by hindering economic progress, weakening democratic life, and threatening social cohesion. Even as redistribution remains very important to inequality reduction, a shift is needed towards a more inclusive pattern of growth, one that raises the incomes of poor and low-income households faster than average in order to sustainably reduce inequality, key to the post-2015 development agenda. 

Economic growth in developing and emerging countries is vital in achieving
Millennium Development Goal 1, which aims to halve world poverty rates by 2015. But higher country income levels and faster economic growth do not always translate into lower inequality in education, health, and other areas of human well-being

In an unprecedented global conversation facilitated by the United Nations that has involved almost 2 million people across the globe, people are demanding a say in the decisions that affect their lives.  People are indignant at the injustice they feel because of growing inequalities and insecurities that exist particularly for poorer and marginalized people. 

The report analyzes global inequality trends while identifying causes and extent of inequalities, their impact, and the ways in which they can be reduced. After illustrating the results of an investigation of policy makers’ views of inequality, it concludes with a comprehensive policy framework to confront inequality in developing countries. 

Browse the publication online