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Wealth Inequality in Europe and the Delusive Egalitarianism of Scandinavian Countries

Open Panel

Abstract

Recent research on inequality shifted its focus from income to wealth as wealth can paint a more complete picture on economic well-being than income does. Regarding the ageing of industrialized societies and the growing importance of private insurance systems, it can be expected that wealth will even gain in importance as income substitute in older age generating very different life chances for individuals. Yet, so far little is known about the distribution of wealth in modern societies. Based on this background, in this study we will take a first look on how wealth is distributed among the elderly across Europe. Using the data from the second wave of SHARE (Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe) and Esping-Andersen''s typology of welfare states, we can show: (1) The distribution of wealth strongly varies between the different European countries. (2) The main component of wealth are real assets. (3) There is no evidence that in general wealth is more unequally distributed than income. (4) There is no clear pattern between the distribution of wealth and a country''s type of welfare state. The highest inequalities in wealth can be found in the social-democratic welfare type so far known for its high level of egalitarianism. Esping-Andersen''s typology therefore cannot be applied for explaining the (unequal) distribution of net worth in different societies.