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Inequality as Cholesterol: Attempting to Quantify Inequality of Opportunity

January 22, 2019

Washington, DC and Online


  • Is all economic inequality bad? Is zero the optimal amount of income inequality? Or, like cholesterol, might there be better and worse forms of inequality? In this talk, World Bank Senior Adviser Francisco Ferreira will discuss how the concept of inequality of opportunity is used by economists. He will briefly review the normative underpinnings and philosophical roots of the theory, provide some empirical illustrations, and then present (some of the) formal economic approaches to the measurement of inequality of opportunity – both for income and education. Limitations and recent attempts to overcome them will also be discussed.

    At the end, Francisco will comment on the close relationship between the concepts of inequality of opportunity and socio-economic mobility; and offer a few examples of applications in the areas of economic growth and social policy evaluation.

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    Francisco Ferreira

    Senior Adviser

    Francisco H. G. Ferreira is a Senior Adviser in the World Bank’s Development Research Group, where he oversees the Bank’s research programs on poverty and inequality. He was formerly the Bank’s Chief Economist for the Africa Region, and has also served as Deputy Chief Economist for Latin America and the Caribbean, and as co-Director of the World Development Report 2006, on Equity and Development. Francisco is also a non-resident Research Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA, Bonn), and has published widely in the fields of poverty and inequality in developing countries.


    Asli Demirgüç-Kunt

    Director of Research

    Asli Demirgüç-Kunt is the Director of Research in the World Bank. After joining the Bank in 1989 as a Young Economist, she has held different positions, including Director of Development Policy, Chief Economist of Financial and Private Sector Development Network, and Senior Research Manager, doing research and advising on financial sector and private sector development issues.


    Ceyla Pazarbasioglu

    Vice President, Equitable Growth, Finance and Institutions

    Ceyla Pazarbasioglu is the World Bank Vice President for Equitable Growth, Finance and Institutions (EFI) as of October 1, 2018. In her role as EFI Vice President, she oversees the World Bank Group’s advisory engagements, operational work and policy in the following Global Practices: Finance, Competitiveness and Innovation (FCI), Governance (GOV), Macroeconomics, Trade and Investment (MTI) and Poverty and Equity (POV).

  • The Policy Research Talks showcase the latest findings of the research department and their implications for World Bank operations. The monthly event facilitates a dialogue between researchers and operational staff so that we can challenge and contribute to the World Bank's intellectual climate and re-examine conventional wisdom in current development theories and practices. Read More »


  • Time: 12:30 - 2:00PM ET
  • Location: MC 13-121