Last update: April 2015
Thailand became an upper-middle income economy in 2011. Notwithstanding political uncertainty and volatility since 1970, Thailand has made remarkable progress in social and economic issues, moving from a low income country to an upper-income country in less than a generation. As such, Thailand has been one of the widely cited development success stories, with sustained strong growth and impressive poverty reduction, particularly in the 1980s.
Thailand's high economic growth at 8-9 percent per year during the late 1980s and early 1990s was interrupted by the "Asian Crisis" of 1997-1998. Since then, economic growth has been moderate, with period of robust growth, such as at around 5 percent from 2002 to 2007, followed by the fall-out from the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, the flood in 2011, and the impact of political tensions and uncertainty in 2010 and again in 2013-2015. As a result, economic growth in Thailand has lagged that in both low and middle income East Asian neighboring countries in recent years. In addition, such comparatively slower growth reflects the decline in global demand for Thailand’s key exports such as hard drive disks and partly because of domestic factors including slowdown in government spending and withdrawal of consumption stimulus measures. Growth was 0.7 percent in 2014 and is projected to rebound to 3.5 percent in 2015.
Thailand is likely to meet most of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on an aggregate basis. Maternal mortality and under-five mortality rates have been greatly reduced and more than 97 percent of the population, both in the urban and rural areas, now have access to clean water and sanitation. At the same time, there are concerns about environmental sustainability.
Poverty in Thailand is primarily a rural phenomenon, with over 80 percent of the country's 7.3 million poor living in rural areas (as of 2013). Some regions—particularly the North and Northeast—and some ethnic groups lag greatly behind others, and the benefits of economic success have not been shared equally, especially between Bangkok, Thailand’s largest urban area, and the rest of the country. Income inequality and lack of equal opportunities have persisted. Income inequality, as measured by the Gini coefficient, has fallen in recent years, but stays consistently high above 0.45.