The super rich are weighing down one of the world’s most socially equal countries

Down the wrong path.
Down the wrong path.
Image: EPA/Anders Wiklund
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Sweden has long been known as one of the countries with the least economic inequality in the world. But in the last 30 years, the gap between Sweden’s rich and poor has grown.

Since the 1980s, income inequality has increased more in Sweden than in any other OECD country with available data. In a report published earlier this year, the OECD looked at the Gini coefficient; a measure of income inequality within a country (where a Gini index of 0 represents perfect equality and 100 is perfect inequality). After taxes and transfers, researchers found that the Gini index in Sweden jumped from 20.9 in 1980 to 27.3 in its latest figures (2013 or later).

Sweden’s famous equality has deteriorated due to the rising incomes of top earners. All Swedish income groups have seen incomes grow since the 1990s, but growth has been highly unequal: The top 10% saw their earnings increase by 60%, while the bottom 10% saw their earnings increase by 20%. Top earners have largely benefited from capital gains, rising house prices and the deregulation of the stock market.

The country’s wealth is largely concentrated with the top 1%. Estimates suggest that between 1975 and 2006 the wealth share of the top% may have more than doubled.

According to a report in the Guardian this week, Sweden is now waging a war on inequality. The country has opened up new family centers to provide more targeted support to families who need it the most.

While inequality has increased, it’s still relatively low in Sweden when compared to other OECD countries. Chile has nearly double the Gini index as Sweden, with Mexico and Turkey rounding out the top three most unequal OECD countries from 2013.

Sweden continues to be among the best performers in gender equality (along with other Nordic countries). In 2015, Sweden came first in the Gender Equality Index of the European Institute for Gender Equality and sixth on the gender equality indicator of the United Nations Development Programme. In 2016, it was ranked fourth in the Global Gender Gap index of the World Economic Forum.