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Overview

  • The goals of the World Bank Group are to end extreme poverty and promote shared prosperity. Promoting shared prosperity means that we will work to increase the incomes and welfare of the bottom 40 percent of society wherever they are, be it the poorest of nations or thriving middle- or high-income countries.

    The shared prosperity goal reflects the fact that as developing countries grow their economies and lift millions out of poverty, they may also experience growing inequality. We now know that nations with a widening gap between those who can and cannot access opportunities in life have difficulty sustaining economic growth and social stability over time. To date, no country has managed to transition beyond middle-income status while maintaining high levels of inequality. Inequality reduction today matters for opportunity and mobility tomorrow, and for the next generation.

    Without a significant reduction in inequality, especially in countries with high rates of poverty and inequality, the world will not meet its goal of ending extreme poverty. While living standards of the bottom 40 percent in countries all over the world have improved in the last decade, the latest data show the picture is mixed at best. Out of 91 economies for which data was available for 2012-2017, 74 had positive shared prosperity, meaning that growth was inclusive and the incomes of the poorest 40 percent of the population increased. 53 had a positive shared prosperity premium, meaning that growth benefited the poorest more than the entire population. Average global shared prosperity (growth in the incomes of the bottom 40 percent) was 2.3 percent for 2012-2017. But the gains are uneven: Shared prosperity and shared prosperity premiums are lower on average in fragile and low-income economies than in middle-income economies. The global pandemic is likely to reduce shared prosperity and the shared prosperity premium.

    COVID-19 (coronavirus) has led to a massive collapse in growth as economies around the world have imposed severe containment measures to control the spread of the virus. These demand and supply shocks have spilled across borders, hampering trade and shrinking economic activity globally. A preliminary outlook projects that the global COVID-19 pandemic will reduce shared prosperity and the shared prosperity premium for most countries in coming years with the likely consequence, based on the patterns of shared prosperity from recent years, of increases in poverty and inequality in the near future. There is considerable uncertainty about how long the current recession will last, and thus how large the reduction in shared prosperity will be. Moreover, existing evidence indicates the least well-off and most vulnerable members of society are disproportionately affected.

    Across all 124 economies assessed, about 40 percent of females and males are in the bottom 40, and 60 percent are in the top 60, meaning that the gender distribution is fairly even. In every country with available data, over 40 percent of children aged 0-14 are in the bottom 40, meaning they are overrepresented in the bottom of the distribution.

    Larger shares of the bottom 40 live in urban areas in high-income countries than in low-income countries. In low-income countries, about 18 percent of urban residents belong to the bottom 40, compared to 37 percent of urban residents in high-income countries. From Sub-Saharan Africa to Europe and Central Asia, children, less educated people and the rural population are more likely to be in the bottom 40.

    The ability to measure shared prosperity has improved, but substantial gaps in data coverage remain. The 91 economies for which the analysis was able to calculate shared prosperity between 2012 and 2017 represent just 59.9 percent of the world’s population. This number still marks a meaningful advance over initial efforts to measure this indicator, in 2014, when adequate data were available for only 65 countries. However, with limited data, shared prosperity is hardest to measure in the very settings where tracking it is most important, often in poorer, fragile, and small countries. Shared prosperity can be measured for only about a quarter of all low-income economies, covering 37.7 percent of the population in this income group.

    Last Updated: Oct 07, 2020

  • To reduce inequality and promote shared prosperity, progress must be sustained over time and across generations. Progress over the last 25 years shows us that countries can make deliberate policy decisions to combat inequality and improve the lives and opportunities of the poorest. In many cases, this will require fiscal, social, and labor market reforms that help create a more inclusive and prosperous society.

    While there is not just one way to reduce inequality and promote shared prosperity, some common lessons from successful countries and several interventions are proven to help. Countries under widely different circumstances have shown that a combination of good policy choices – sound macroeconomic foundations, sustaining growth, and strong labor markets – and favorable external factors have contributed to progress in reducing inequality.

    Six policy areas have shown to be effective in reducing inequality. They offer very few trade-offs between equity and efficiency and have worked repeatedly in different settings around the world. They are by no means the only paths to reduce inequality, but they are those for which researchers have the most compelling body of evidence.

    • Early childhood development and nutrition interventions 
    • Universal health coverage 
    • Universal access to quality education 
    • Cash transfers to poor families 
    • Rural infrastructure – especially roads and electrification 
    • Progressive taxation

    At the World Bank Group, we are particularly concerned with inequality of opportunity, which reflects differences in circumstances outside an individual’s control. Inequality of opportunity is both unfair and inefficient, and a key contributor to low social mobility and persistent income inequality. It prevents people from reaching their aspirations and can threaten social cohesion while also having real consequences for growth and poverty reduction in countries at all levels of development. When opportunities for human capital development and economic advancement are distributed unequally, those born in poverty often face enormous odds. Too often, inequality is passed down from generation to generation, reducing social mobility.

    Findings from a World Bank report, which looks at data covering most of the developing world and about 95 percent of the world’s population, notes that the social status of one’s parents is as influential today as it was 50 years ago in determining what rung of the economic ladder a person will occupy. The report finds that increases in education from generation to generation have stalled over the last half-century and low levels of upward mobility are particularly pronounced in the developing world, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.

    That is why the World Bank’s work to support governments in fostering more equitable and inclusive societies cuts across all our program areas. It touches on the policy areas listed above along with others including gender, governance, and improved access to basic services and jobs.

    The Bank’s new Learning Poverty initiative aims to tackle inequities in education outcomes. Learning poverty, which affects 53 percent of children in low- and middle-income countries, means being unable to read and understand a simple text by age 10, and the Bank’s Learning Target is to reduce it by 50% by 2030.

    It is crucial to work closely with our country clients to ensure that the projects the Bank finances benefit the less well-off and provide equalizing opportunities where there are few or none.

    We anchor all of our country engagements in the latest available evidence, laying out clearly the opportunities for and barriers to poverty reduction and shared prosperity in each of our partner countries through the Systematic Country Diagnostic (SCD). We use empirical data and conduct poverty and social impact analyses (PSIA) to assess how projects affect vulnerable groups in society. The Bank’s Human Opportunity Index (pdf), initially developed for the Latin American and Caribbean region, is now used to measure gaps in access to basic services in Africa and beyond.

    Last Updated: Oct 07, 2020

  • Here are a few examples of our projects and analyses to help nations become more inclusive:

    • Since 2015, a $1.2 billion World Bank program has worked to ensure that Ethiopia’s entire population benefits from basic social services. It uses block grants to regions and woredas (districts) for delivering basic social services in health, education, agriculture, and rural roads, water, and sanitation. The support has achieved notable results in ensuring better access to services and contributed to the country’s impressive gains in basic services.
    • The World Bank is supporting Egypt’s reform program, which focuses on creating opportunities for Egyptians and raising living standards by promoting the private sector and improving government performance. The program will help finance the government’s own economic development program, “Egypt Takes Off,” with a focus on promoting small businesses while improving the capacities of local governments to deliver services to their citizens and guide local development.
    • In Kosovo, access to services and economic opportunities for Roma communities is quite low, according to a recent World Bank report. By providing Roma with the same opportunities available to the general population, Kosovo can attain important fiscal gains.
    • One in four Latin Americans identify themselves as people of African descent. Even though there have been significant gains over the past decade, Afro-descendants still are overrepresented among the poor. A new World Bank report aimed to deepen the understanding of the drivers behind the persistent exclusion of the Afro-descendants and improve opportunities and access to services and markets for excluded groups in ways that respect their views and aspirations.
    • South Africa is facing the triple challenge of high poverty, inequality, and unemployment, despite much progress made by the government in tackling this challenge. For South Africa to grow sustainably and reduce inequality of opportunity, a new World Bank report suggests that the country needs to address its skills gap and enroll more students in the Post School Education and Training sector, raising graduation rates and improving the relevance of skills specific to the needs of the labor market.
    • Chile faced the challenge of unequal access to quality education. Students of lower socioeconomic status were occasionally denied admission to primary education in better-quality schools and poor students weren’t able to afford tertiary education. Working with the government, the World Bank designed a project that promoted equal opportunities in education and strengthened institutions for poverty measurement. As a result, nearly 49,000 students received full scholarships for their tertiary education. And the lowest grade in each school receiving public funding rolled out a centralized, regulated admission system that saw 75 percent of applicants receiving their first preference for school admission.

    Last Updated: Oct 07, 2020

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1818 H Street, NW Washington, DC 20433
Elizabeth Howton
ehowton@worldbankgroup.org