Spatial Inequality and Development

Spatial Inequality and Development

Spatial Inequality and Development

Spatial Inequality and Development


What exactly is spatial inequality? Why does it matter? And what should be the policy response to it? These questions have become important in recent years as the spatial dimensions of inequality have begun to attract considerable policy interest. In China, Russia, India, Mexico, and South Africa, as well as most other developing and transition economies, spatial and regional inequality - of economic activity, incomes, and social indicators - is on the increase.

Spatial inequality is a dimension of overall inequality, but it has added significance when spatial and regional divisions align with political and ethnic tensions to undermine social and political stability. Also important in the policy debate is a perceived sense that increasing internal spatial inequality is related to greater openness of economies, and to globalization in general.

Despite these important concerns, there is remarkably little systematic documentation of what has happened to spatial and regional inequality over the last twenty years. Correspondingly, there is insufficient understanding of the determinants of internal spatial inequality.

This volume attempts to answer the questions posed above, drawing on data from twenty-five countries from all regions of the world. They bring together perspectives and expertise in development economics and in economic geography and form a well-researched introduction to an area of growing analytical and policy importance.


Many developing and transition countries exhibit significant regional disparities in average incomes, the incidence and depth of poverty, health indicators, education status, and other correlates of living standards and human development. Spatial variations are particularly high in large countries like Brazil, China, Russia, and South Africa. But they are also evident in smaller developing nations, especially in Africa, and they continue to be an important social concern in developed countries—for example, with regard to us poverty rates and uk health indices.

Variations in living standards within countries have a number of underlying causes. They reflect historical differences in the pace of development (S ao Paulo versus northeast Brazil), the uneven impact of economic reform (Guangdong versus Qinhai), discrimination in the provision of economic and social infrastructure (South Africa during apartheid), and impediments to labour migration (China and Russia). Unfavourable agricultural conditions and geographical remoteness from principal markets also play a role. Whatever the original source, there is a widespread perception that spatial disparities in human development have recently become more visible and that they are increasing over time.

Despite the recognition of the problem and its policy significance, there has been very little systematic scholarly analysis into the causes of growing inequalities within countries and their cumulative detrimental impact on human development. Under the direction of Ravi Kanbur and Tony Venables, the UNU-WIDER project on Spatial Disparities in Human Development drew together expertise from all regions of the globe in order to better understand the incidence, significance, and causes of spatial variations within countries, and to contribute to the global policy debate. This book is a collection of country, regional, and comparative studies presented and discussed at a conference at the London School of Economics in June 2002. It is the first serious attempt to examine spatial inequality in a global context from multiple perspectives and disciplines, and will be essential reading for academics and students interested in this research topic. It also provides valuable background information and advice for both policymakers and policytakers, and will be useful reading material for lay readers interested in learning more about a topic of growing national and international significance.

Tony Shorrocks

Director, UNU-WIDER, Helsinki

May 2004 . . .

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