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Wealth inequality in Europe and the delusive egalitarianism of Scandinavian countries

  • Political Science


Past sociological inequality research focused on (labor) market outcomes, while neglecting the even more important role of wealth. In our study we investigate the distribution of wealth among the elderly across Europe within the framework of Esping-Andersen’s typology of welfare states. Using SHARE data, our analyses suggest (1) that there is strong variation in the distribution of wealth between European countries, and (2) that patterns of wealth inequality differ strongly from patterns of income inequality. Surprisingly high levels of wealth disparity were found in the social democratic welfare regimes commonly known as very egalitarian societies. We conclude that Esping-Andersen’s scheme requires reconsideration because it is based on a one-sided understanding of social stratification not accounting for the central role of wealth in the stratification process.

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