Skip to Main Navigation

Trends in Malaysian poverty and income dynamics: do regional inequalities trump ethnic disparities?

March 25, 2021

Kuala Lumpur Research Seminar Series

  • This study employs a synthetic panel approach based on nationally representative micro data to track poverty and income mobility in Malaysia in the period 2004-2016. While on aggregate we observe large reductions in chronic poverty and increases in persistent economic security, we find that poverty and mobility trends differ notably across geographic dimensions. Such disparities are most striking when we contrast affluent urban Peninsular Malaysia with poorer rural East Malaysia and could indicate the presence of a geographic poverty trap. Although there are important differences in welfare levels between headline ethnic groups, we observe that mobility trends generally point in the same direction. However, we observe that there is also a regional element to ethnic inequalities. For example, significant differences exist between Bumiputera in Peninsular Malaysia and Bumiputera in East Malaysia, the latter experiencing more chronic poverty, more downward mobility and less upward mobility. Our findings imply that, to further decrease chronic poverty and increase income mobility, the current affirmative action policies may need to shift focus towards a more region-based approach.

    Download Paper

    Presentation Slides


  • Peter Lanjouw (PhD London School of Economics) is professor in development economics at the School of Business and Economics of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. One of his main research interests is the measurement and analysis of poverty and inequality in developing countries. Prior to joining VU Amsterdam in January 2015, he spent more than two decades in the Development Economics Research Group of the World Bank, lastly as Manager of the Poverty and Inequality team. He has taught courses at the Delhi School of Economics, the Foundation for the Advanced Study of International Development, Tokyo, and the University of Namur, Belgium, and has held a visiting position at the University of California, Berkeley. He is current editor of the World Bank Research Observer and a past assistant editor of the World Bank Economic Review.

    Gerton Rongen is a researcher at the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development (AIGHD) and PhD candidate at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. His research focuses on poverty, inequality and development. Previous work includes adjusting survey-based measures of inequality for missing top incomes (with an application to Mumbai, India) and the impact evaluation of a water and sanitation program in South Africa.


  • WHEN (KUALA LUMPUR TIME): Thursday, March 25, 2021: 9:00 -10:00am
  • WHEN (ET/WASHINGTON, D.C. TIME): Wednesday, March 24, 2021: 9:00 – 10:00pm