Home > Global Inequality and Global Poverty since the Cold War: How robust is the optimistic narrative?

Global Inequality and Global Poverty since the Cold War: How robust is the optimistic narrative?

Global Inequality and Global Poverty since the Cold War: How robust is the optimistic narrative?

CROP/UiB Global WORKING PAPER SERIES on Global Challenges, Issue #1. Authors: Peter Edward & Andy Sumner

No. 1 - October 2016

This series seeks to disseminate research focused on issues such as poverty and inequality, sustainability, and other relevant global Challenges.

Open access to the full publication is available through Bergen Open Research Archive (BORA), the open research archive at the University of Bergen:

Open access to FULL PAPER


This paper considers how the growth in global consumption since the end of the Cold War, has impacted on the co-evolution of global inequality and poverty. It is often suggested that this era of growth has led to a dramatic reduction in global poverty and to the emergence of both a new global middle class and a more equal world. We argue that this dominant and optimistic narrative on globalisation since the Cold War is considerably more methodologically fragile than it at first seems. Further, we suggest that this has implications for the UN goal to end global poverty by 2030. The fall in inequality is almost exclusively attributable to the effect that the rise of China has had on betweencountry inequality. Changes in global inequality across the rest of the world are much more modest. Much heralded falls in global poverty have raised the consumption of the poorest, but the extent to which that is the case depends on where one draws the global poverty line as at the lower end of the global distribution a change of just 10c can remove 100 million people from global poverty headcounts. If one takes instead the average poverty line for all countries (a more genuinely global poverty line) of USD 5 per day poverty headcounts have hardly changed since the Cold War. Meanwhile, the numbers living at risk of sliding back into poverty (between USD 1.90 and USD 10 a day) grew by 1.6bn, compared to a rise of 1.1bn in the numbers living above this level, and around half of those living above this level saw their share of global consumption fall. We suggest therefore that the dominant or optimistic narrative, of falling poverty and an emerging 'middle class' largely free from the threat of poverty, disguises both considerable growth in the size of the 'global precariat' living in conditions that most in the developed world would consider to be well below 'middle class' and an erosion of the financial security of a significant proportion of those living at higher consumption levels.


CROP News and Events

CIH/CISMAC Sustainability Science Seminar

October 2018

SEMINAR on Sustainability Science for PhD candidates within the framework of the CIH/CISMAC Research School

Accelerating Sustainable Development through Social Protection

June 2018

CROP POVERTY BRIEF: By Babatunde Omilola (Head of Development Planning and Inclusive Sustainable Growth Team, UNDP), CROP Fellow.

Student Mobility Scholarships awarded to UiB Masters students

25 June - 9 July 2018 | University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), Durban, South Africa

SCHOLARSHIPS: 5 Masters students from the University of Bergen will participate in summer school at UKZN.

News from CROPNET

Launch of International Science Council (ISC)

5 July (09.00-18.00 CEST)

LIVESTREAM: the founding of ISC will be celebrated with a Science Day.

​Implementing the SDGs: What Role for Social and Solidarity Economy?

Deadline: 2 August 2018

CALL FOR PAPERS by UNs Inter-Agency Task Force on Social and Solidarity Economy (UNTFSSE).

Child Poverty and Deprivation in Refugee-Hosting Areas. Evidence from Uganda

June 2018

REPORT by UNICEF, Economic Policy Research Center (EPRC) and University of Cardiff.