NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Globalization and Inequality: Historical Trends

Kevin H. O'Rourke

NBER Working Paper No. 8339
Issued in June 2001
NBER Program(s):   ITI

This paper surveys trends in both international economic integration and inequality over the past 150 years, as well as the links between them. In doing so, it distinguishes between (a) the different dimensions of globalization; and (b) between-country and within-country inequality. Theory suggests that globalization will have very different implications for within-country inequality, depending on the dimension of globalization involved (e.g. trade versus factor flows), on the country concerned, and on the distribution of endowments; the historical record provides ample evidence of this ambiguous relationship. Late 19th century globalization had large effects on within-country income distribution, but the effect on inequality differed greatly across countries: both trade and migration (but not capital flows) made the rich New World more unequal, and the (less rich) Old World more equal. The evidence on the links between within-country inequality and globalization in the late 20th century is mixed. The balance of evidence suggests that globalization has been a force for between-country convergence in both the late 19th and late 20th centuries; long run patterns of divergence are due to other factors (e.g. the unequal spread of the Industrial Revolution).

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w8339

Published:

  • Reprinted in Aussenwirtschaft 57, 1 (2002): 65-101. ,
  • O'Rourke, Kevin H. “Globalization and inequality: historical trends.” Annual World Bank Conference on Development Economics (2001/2): 39-67.

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