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Journal of Globalization and Development

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The Evolution of Consumption and Wealth Inequality in India: A Quantitative Assessment

Sreenivasan Subramanian
  • Corresponding author
  • Madras Institute of Development Studies, 79 Second Main Road, Gandhinagar, Adyar, Chennai 600 020, Tamil Nadu, India
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/ Dhairiyarayar Jayaraj
  • Madras Institute of Development Studies, 79 Second Main Road, Gandhinagar, Adyar, Chennai 600 020, Tamil Nadu, India
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Published Online: 2013-11-29 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/jgd-2013-0018


In this paper we undertake a fairly straightforward quantitative assessment of trends in inequality in the distribution of consumption expenditure and of household wealth in India. While it is customary to employ, in applied work, only relative measures whose value basis is seldom subjected to any serious critical scrutiny, the present paper assesses inequality in terms of both absolute and intermediate measures, in addition to relative measures. It is found that our judgment of inequality trends is indeed influenced by the particular conception – relative, absolute or intermediate – of inequality that we may be inclined to favour. In particular, intermediate measures avoid the arguably “extreme” values underlying relative and absolute measures, and if we go by intermediate rather than relative indices, then we find that inequality in India must be judged to be increasing rather than essentially trend-less, as relative approaches to assessing inequality suggest.

Keywords: Relative inequality; absolute inequality; intermediate inequality; consumption expenditure; household assets; India

JEL Classification: D31; D63; O15


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About the article

Corresponding author: Sreenivasan Subramanian, Madras Institute of Development Studies, 79 Second Main Road, Gandhinagar, Adyar, Chennai 600 020, Tamil Nadu, India, e-mail:

Published Online: 2013-11-29

This literature includes – among others – Atkinson and Brandolini (2004), Azpitarte and Alonso-Villar (2011), Bosmans et al. (2011), Bossert and Pfingsten (1990), Chakravarty and Tyagarupananda (1998, 2009), Del Rio and Alonso-Villar (2008, 2011), Del Rio and Ruiz-Castillo (2000, 2001), Kolm (1976a,b), Krtscha (1994), Moyes (1987), Yoshida (2005), Zheng (2007), and Zoli (2012).

See also Jenkins and Jäntti (2005) and Yoshida (2005).

In Figures 1A and 1B the coordinates of the Lorenz curves have been obtained as consumption shares/mean expenditures corresponding to cumulated decile population proportions, as derived from the equation of the relative Lorenz curve which has been estimated by the so-called Beta function method, employing the POVCAL software package (Chen et al. 1991).

In Figures 2A and 2B the Lorenz curves have been obtained by connecting, with straight lines, the asset shares/mean asset values corresponding to alternative cumulative population proportions, as available directly from the published grouped data on the distribution of household assets.

Citation Information: Journal of Globalization and Development, Volume 4, Issue 2, Pages 253–281, ISSN (Online) 1948-1837, ISSN (Print) 2194-6353, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/jgd-2013-0018.

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