The Global Income Inequality Project

The project


This £1.2m ESRC-funded project is jointly co-ordinated by Professor Ian Gazeley and Professor Andrew Newell from the departments of History and Economics at the University of Sussex. Our objective is to calculate new estimates of world inequality in the period from the end of the nineteenth century until the 1960s, based on the results of household expenditure surveys.


The current consensus is that all of the post-industrial revolution increase in inequality amongst world citizens occurred before about 1950. This conclusion has largely been reached on the basis of the analysis of global measures of inequality derived from the national accounts in conjunction with various proxy measures.

This project takes a different approach. We will investigate inequality in this period using much better, household level, data. There are strong arguments, advocated by the World Bank among others, for investigating inequality using evidence from household surveys suitably adjusted for cost of living differences. This has not generally been carried out for the pre-1950 period at a global level, possibly because the extent of recoverable household expenditure survey evidence has not been fully appreciated. Our investigations have already located a vast cache of household expenditure surveys for the period in question.

Areas of Investigation

We will extract the reported demographic and expenditure data by income group from these reports and use them to estimate parameters of the income distribution. Using these estimates, we will investigate:

  • the changing nature of inequality within a number of key nation states.
  • the time path and geography of global inequality from the 1880s to the 1960s.
  • indicators of living conditions, such as nutritional attainment, which may provide further insights into the impact of industrialisation on inequality.


Our research is likely to transform our understanding of the history of global living standards during the first half of the twentieth century and the distributional consequences of long-term economic growth. It has the potential, equally, to transform our understanding of policy designed to reduce inequality.

The project will also bequeath a collection of datasets with significant potential for future use and, in partnership with The National Archives Education Department, we will engage in outreach activities with secondary school teachers.