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Page | Last updated: 15 Mar 2023

Widening inequalities

The absolute number of people living in extreme poverty has been declining. But the gap between the wealthiest and poorest of the population is widening.

timeline and images small_inequality
(© Photo by Fotogestoeber on


A Megatrend is a long-term driving force that is observable now and will continue to have a global impact in years to come

Different types of inequalities in society are persistent and widening despite progress to address them. Inequalities in education, the labour market and health are widening, and gender and territorial inequalities persist despite the fact that significant progress has been made to address them. An uneven distribution of wealth, income and the adverse effects of climate change around the world is growing.

Crucial for a prosperous society, access to quality education, employment and health are still being shaped by gender, age, ethnicity, social class, migration status and location. Inequality is holding economic growth back and can threaten democracy and social cohesion if corporations and the wealthy continue to have excessive influence on setting the 'rules of the game' (of life). More than ever before there is a growing consensus that inequality is an urgent issue that should be at the top of policymakers' agenda. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated many of the existing inequalities. 

This Megatrend is part of the Megatrends Hub



The driving forces of the Megatrend change over time. This timeline indicates more established and newer trends that are influencing the future direction of the Megatrend

Widening Inequalities Megatrend Timeline diagram

They indicate a direction of change in values and needs which is driven by forces and manifests itself already in various ways within certain groups in society. 

Social cohesion erosion

The well-being of countries and individuals has been increasingly recognised as a societal asset, implying a sense of togetherness, trust, opportunities and orientation towards a common goal. Although social cohesion in the EU as a whole does not appear to be at risk, perceptions of social, ethno-cultural and economic exclusion are generally low within the EU countries

Who can afford the digital and green transition? 

To ensure success and widespread acceptance of the digital and green transition, lower-income and more vulnerable parts of society should also actively benefit. Those who face energy poverty and lack digital skills or connectivity are at a heavy disadvantage. The transitions should improve their situation instead of bringing additional hardships.

Geographical Inequalities are widening

While the trends described in this megatrend on 'Widening Inequalities' are globally relevant, they are described from a Eurocentric perspective. In this micro trend, we take a broader look at global-level inequalities.

Growing disparities in labour markets

Labour markets are transforming, and the pandemic may increase the speed of these changes. Work-related inequalities persist and if not adequately addressed, could be further exacerbated by the effects of the crisis.

Growing health-related inequalities

The link between education, income and life expectancy is likely to become stronger in the future. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the unequal exposure to health risks in some groups within the populations and these inequalities are likely to continue and possibly widen. Equal access to healthcare is also an issue.

Gender inequalities, still a gap

Some gender inequalities have been narrowing, but we have not yet closed the gap. A lot of progress has been made on the gender equality front in recent decades and many gender norms and values have shifted. These shifts go beyond challenging traditional patriarchal norms, or greater understanding and acceptance of non-binary gender identities and expressions. They also include new expressions and assertions linked to masculinity. But recent developments in some countries and the negative effects of the pandemic on women’s employment, safety and the gender division of labour at home highlight that any progress should not be taken for granted.


Previously Covered Trends

These are trends that were spotted in the past, and might have grown or faded away in time.

Future Snapshots

A future snapshot shows a plausible image of what might happen in the future in relation to this Megatrend. It is a creation built using knowledge and imagination. These snapshots presented here are excerpts of inspiring future-oriented reports written by other colleagues and organisations.

Geographic scenario 

"In the third scenario, which may be called the ‘geographic’ scenario, national politics are unchanging, but globalization and technical transfers keep stimulating the catch-up process. Most developing countries benefit and raise their average living standards. Climate policies aimed at spreading clean energy throughout the world push the convergence process. Similarly, access to improved technologies in various sectors of production, agriculture and health promotes income growth in poor countries. Such policies may involve providing modern energy and technologies to currently deprived regions, which will increase economic development."

Other sketched scenarios are: Scenario 1 - business as usual, scenario 2 - social scenario

Inequalities and social progress in the future.UNESDOC (2016)


Global income equality up to 2050 - scenario 1 business as usual

"In the first scenario, all countries follow the inequality trajectory they have followed since the early 1980s. For instance, we know that the bottom 50% income earners in China captured 13% of total Chinese growth over the 1980–2016 period.3 We thus assume that bottom 50% Chinese earners will capture 13% of Chinese income growth up to 2050. The second scenario assumes that all countries follow the same inequality trajectory as the United States over the 1980–2016 period. Following the above example, we know that bottom 50% US earners captured 3% of total growth since 1980 in the United States. The second scenario then assumes that within all countries, bottom 50% earners will capture 3% of growth over the 2017–2050 period. In the third scenario, all countries follow the same inequality trajectory as the European Union over the 1980–2016 period—where the bottom 50% captured 14% of total growth since 1980."

Other sketched scenarios are: Scenario 2 - inequalities amplified and Scenario 3 - more equitable global future

Tackling economic inequality. World inequality lab (2018)


Further Reading

Want to explore more? Some interesting readings below:

●   How will the COVID-19 crisis affect existing geneder divides in Europe? – EU Policy Hub
●   Reversing inequalities – European Commission
●   Global Economic Imbalances - World Economic Forum
●   Overview of Global Inequality Facts  - Institute for Policy Studies
●   Global Economic Inequality Figures  - Our World in Data
●   Policymaker’s Guide on Inequality  - UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific


This Megatrends hub is a repository of foresight related information. It highlights long-term driving forces and its underlying shorter-term trends. This repository can help you understand the changing society in a broad and more systemic way. 

Disclaimer: this repository is by no means comprehensive and apart from established scientific knowledge contains also issues which are subject to scientific debate and where research is ongoing or only starting (indicated as stronger or weaker trends) to give the reader some insights and ways to further explore the topics in more depth.