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Inequality and Society

Inequality and society can be analyzed in various forms. Economic inequality with respect to gender and wealth differences, distribution of unpaid labor and early education are important. At the same time, the aspect of (in)equality concerning education and the income distribution must be considered as well as education with respect to age and gender and the quality of education. Furthermore, the processual nature and multidimensionality, the “making of inequality”, needs to be examined in order to illuminate underlying dynamics and possible conflicts.


The Making of Inequality

Inequality in scientific research must be understood as a process and a multidimensional phaenomenon. Cultural conditions of inequality are important, as inequality is constructed through everyday life and institutional politics; with this in mind, it needs to be stated that individual responsibility exists alongside institutional responsibility. A general aspect hereby is the development and distribution of access and exclusion to a variety of possibilities.

Making of...

Inequality exists, but is also constructed through active drawing of boundaries. Examples are social differences (e. g. gender or ethnicity), or institutional categorizations (e. g. age limits or citizenship).

Daily practices and institutional policies of in- and exclusion are interlinked; borders and categories and with them principles of distribution of resources and status are being stipulated artificially. Differences between rich and poor, inside or outside occur; but inequality is shapeable, influence can be exerted on the base of individual responsibility as well as through institutional and social responsibility.

... Inequality

Inequality is a complex phaenomenon. Besides income and wealth, social relations and symbolic status (prestige of education or profession) play an important part. One deals with limited resources or artificially limited resources respectively that guarantee social participation and inclusion.

The objective is to establish an institutional framework in order to enable access to all required resources with respect to equality of opportunity. Therefore, research is needed: conflicts must be identified that result in restricted access to resources for different groups of individuals as well as asymmetric power distributions, which result in permanent inequality of opportunity and results.

  • Which institutional practices and which cultural constructions lead to inequality?

  • Which mechanisms of in- and exclusion are responsible?

  • At which levels do these mechanisms exist?

  • How do specific political activities influence inequality?

  • Which consequences (“drawing of borders”) result from them?

  • How did cultural conditions influence these developments?

  • What are explanations or legitimizations for these phaenomena?

Economic Inequality with respect to gender


Unpaid labor is a key research field in feminist economics. Socio-political relevance of gender roles, division of labor in households and the wage gap are undeniable. On average, women have fewer assets to their name, mainly due to labor market related differences; the richer the household, the greater the gap. Key topics are, for instance, the role of kindergarten for girls or how the kindergarten attendance of children affects the participation of the mother in the labor market.

Differences in wealth between men and women?

Studies in ten European countries, including Austria, are performed with the aim of calculating and explaining the "gender-wealth-gap". Women have fewer assets: the gap exists, especially at the upper limit of the distribution. If women had the same labor market experience as men, the gap for all but the richest 1% of households would be gone; differences in inheritances explain inequality concerning wealth for the top 1% with respect to gender.

Unpaid labor

The objective hereby is to research unpaid labor in couple households. Decisions about the distribution of unpaid labor between partners within the household depend on the socio-economic structure; they are the result of a bargaining process that is determined among other things by the relative income.

The analysis for Austria is done based on time-series data: different patterns in the division of unpaid work over the life cycle across households are analyzed.

Early education

Early childhood education is an important policy tool in order to decrease the level of inequality; the question is, if it has a different influence on certain groups of individuals. This project is concerned with identifying the effect of attending kindergarten on future income and the education of men and women (for people with and without migrant background). Are mothers more successful in the labor market as a consequence, if children attend kindergarten? This research has implications for education, parental leave and labor market policy.

Educational (in)equality


We analyze the distribution of schooling years with the concept of a Gini-coefficient with respect to education. In general, the global expansion of education has led to the reduction of educational inequality. On the one hand, higher and more equally distributed education exists among younger cohorts, on the other hand, inequality between the young and the old is increasing temporarily. Variation is also found concerning the inequality depending on gender. Positive growth effects can be noticed, whereas the distributional effects are ambiguous.

Distribution of education and income

Education is seen as an essential tool for economic policy in order to reverse the negative distributional effects of technological progress and globalization.

Nevertheless, the relationship is empirically ambiguous: the past five decades have been marked by declining educational, but rising income inequality. This research project will analyze which factors have contributed to the decoupling of these two dimensions of socio-economic inequality since the 1980s.


Multidimensionality I: Distribution of education with respect to age and gender

IIASA/VID population data with respect to education, age and gender enable the calculation of

  • group specific distribution measures and

  • the percentage of inequality between generations and genders in proportion to the total level of educational inequality

The evolution of these indices over time provides us with new insights into country or region specific dynamics of the expansion of education, and its growth and distributional effects.

Multidimensionality II: Quality of Education

In a quantitative meaning, the degree of inequality in education has dropped significantly over the last five decades. Schooling years are not the only dimension of educational inequality though; this research projects examines the distribution of educational quality and asks questions like

  • Does polarization occur concerning educational quality?

  • What is its impact on rising income inequality in Europe?