Social Impacts Analysis

Objectives

To trace through and understand the social impact of increasing inequalities in income and in access to “good” jobs, in particular on living standards and deprivation, family and household formation/breakdown, housing and intergenerational social mobility, health and life expectancy, cohesion versus polarisation, and on wealth and assets. Tease out possible policy implications, particularly for the longer term.

Background and motivation: Social impacts of changing inequalities of incomes, earnings and wealth

Increasing inequalities in earnings and household incomes and an increasing fracturing of employment into “good” versus “bad” jobs have not by any means been seen universally across the OECD, but where they occur they may have deep-seated social impacts, at the individual, household and societal level. The remarkably wide range of potential negative social impacts which have been advanced in research and debate include increases in poverty and deprivation, in stress and unhappiness, in gender inequalities, in family breakdown and teenage pregnancy, in childhood disadvantage and educational failure, in health inequalities, in crime and disorder, in polarisation and increasing fragmentation between communities, ethnic groups, regions and social classes.
A programme of research on these potential effects is central to the theme, and its first task will be to delineate the channels of influence and the causal relationships via which such social impacts could arise. This will involve drawing on a variety of disciplinary perspectives, but the aim will be to underpin the empirical analysis with a theoretical framework which provides coherence across the different areas to be investigated. This framework, as already outlined, focuses on how increasing economic inequalities between individuals driven primarily by market forces, with education and the labour market as key arenas, may be compounded by what is happening at the household level, with a cumulation of advantages or disadvantages leading to growing polarisation and feeding through to a variety of societal effects. Given the range of areas and the complexity of the underlying relations, clearly setting out the channels of influence which have been hypothesised or asserted and putting them within an analytic framework will be an important contribution in itself. The hypothesised relationships will then be empirically investigated in a comparative perspective. The Country Reports will provide an important follow-up to this. In doing so, a priority will be to empirically link the individual with his or her household. Changes in the distribution of earnings and of jobs (good or bad) have their immediate effects on the individuals concerned, but many of the hypothesised effects have also to be seen from a household perspective.


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