Report on the World Social Situation

2412-0871 (online)
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The Report on the World Social Situation (RWSS) is prepared on a biennial basis by the Division for Social Policy and Development of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). Over the years, the Report has served as a background document for discussion and policy analysis of socio-economic matters at the intergovernmental level, and has aimed at contributing to the identification of emerging social trends of international concern and to the analysis of relationships among major development issues which have both international and national dimensions.
Report on the world social situation 2013

Report on the world social situation 2013

Inequality Matters You do not have access to this content

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31 Dec 2013
9789210565035 (PDF)

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The 2013 report examines key drivers of inequality that have emerged in the recent past and the impact of rising inequality. It examines trends in social, economic and spatial inequalities and assesses why inequality matters in order to propose policy solutions to this persistent problem, paying particular attention to the potential role of empowerment and participation. The report highlights inequalities within and across countries and shows the cumulative, mutually-reinforcing effects these inequalities have on the systematic lack of participation and disadvantage of some social groups and on the intergenerational transmission of poverty. It discusses the role of economic and political institutions in promoting participation and empowerment.
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  • Preface
    As the international community shapes its vision for a post-2015 global development agenda, worsening inequalities across and within many countries have been an important part of the discussions. There is a growing recognition among stakeholders that economic growth is not sufficient to sustainably reduce poverty if it is not inclusive.
  • Acknowledgements
    The Report on the World Social Situation, prepared biennially, is the flagship publication on major social development issues of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat.
  • Explanatory notes
    When a print edition of a source exists, the print version is the authoritative one. United Nations documents reproduced online are deemed official only as they appear in the United Nations Official Document System. United Nations documentation obtained from other United Nations and non-United Nations sources are for informational purposes only. The Organization does not make any warranties or representations as to the accuracy or completeness of such materials.
  • Overview
    World leaders, in adopting the Millennium Declaration in 2000, pledged to create a more equitable world. Yet, income inequality has increased in many countries over the last few decades, as the wealthiest individuals have become wealthier while the relative situation of people living in poverty has improved little. Disparities in education, health and other dimensions of human development still remain large despite marked progress in reducing the gaps. Various social groups, especially indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities and rural populations, suffer disproportionately from income poverty and inadequate access to quality services and, generally, disparities between these groups and the rest of the population have increased over time.
  • Recent trends in economic inequality
    Disparities in income, wealth and consumption have tended to dominate the discussion on inequality, not only because they contribute directly to the wellbeing of individuals and families, but also because they shape the opportunities people have in life as well as their children’s future: access to goods and services available on the market depends on economic resources as do—to a considerable degree—good educational outcomes and good health. Chapter 1 describes different kinds of economic inequality across and within countries and compares levels and trends of inequality across regions.
  • Inequality in key aspects of well-being
    The present chapter analyses disparities across and within countries in several dimensions of well-being, namely, life expectancy at birth, child survival, nutrition and educational attainment. Although inequality in health and educational outcomes across countries remains large, the past two decades have seen a shift towards convergence, as poorer countries have continued to make notable progress in improving their levels of human development. However, this good news is tempered by the persistence of large inequalities in health and education within and across both social groups and regions within countries. Spatial disparities may not have increased in all countries but they have remained high, as have inequalities in education and health. However, as with economic inequalities, trends are far from universal.
  • The impact of inequality
    The previous chapters showed that, both within and across countries, the rich have gained disproportionately from the economic growth of the past two decades. This rising inequality matters, not only for its effect on economic development processes, but also for its impact on poverty reduction, social mobility, social cohesion, political stability, and other aspects of social development. However, as highlighted in previous chapters, the arguments and evidence against inequality as an unavoidable by-product of development are growing. While some level of inequality can be incentivizing, there is growing recognition that too much inequality, and sustained periods of it, can derail economic progress and deepen—or create—the social and economic exclusion of large pockets of society.
  • Identity and inequality: focus on social groups
    The previous chapters have shown that factors beyond an individual’s skill or effort, such as place of residence or parents’ education, affect income, access to other productive assets, and health and educational status, thus creating inequality between individuals. Yet other characteristics that identify the social group to which an individual belongs, including gender, age, and migrant, indigenous or disability status, also have considerable influence on well-being and economic outcomes. Indeed, an individual’s chances in life depend significantly on group ascription and the ways in which both the individual and group interacts with public institutions and the labour market.
  • What can be done to tackle inequalities?
    The analysis in the previous four chapters shows that there has been an upsurge in economic inequality in many countries, both developed and developing, in the past thirty years. In the majority of countries, the distribution of assets, incomes and wages has become increasingly unequal. However, in the past decade, several countries have bucked the trend of rising inequality, suggesting that domestic social and economic policies can play a crucial role in determining inequality trends. These policies can serve as positive examples of not just what can work, but of what has worked already.
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