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Equalizing or disequalizing? Opposing socio-demographic determinants of the spatial distribution of welfare.

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - EQUALIZE (Equalizing or disequalizing? Opposing socio-demographic determinants of the spatial distribution of welfare.)

Reporting period: 2019-11-01 to 2020-04-30

Documenting global trends in welfare distributions, scholars from different fields have recently identified an overall macro-level convergence between countries during the last decades in a significant number of socio-economic and demographic variables or domains like income, education or health (including maternal mortality, infant survival or life expectancy). In tandem with these major changes at the macro level, researchers have also pinpointed an opposing micro level trend towards increasing economic inequality within countries. If these economic trends are to continue over time we might be on the verge of a ‘convergence towards divergence’ scenario in which the economic status of individuals would be less likely to be driven by the country where they were born and more by their ability to secure a profitable job in the increasingly globalized and competitive knowledge-based economy.

In an attempt to explain these recent trends, there has been particular interest among social scientists in how demographic processes, and specially patterns of family formation and living arrangements influence and are influenced by the level and structure of inequality, poverty and polarization in contemporary societies. In this respect, there is growing concern among scholars regarding the implications that phenomena like the weakening of family ties, increasing homogamy patterns, the gradual appearance of high-skilled dual-earner couples in tandem with increases in single parenthood and divorce might have in terms of growing social distance between social strata and the emergence of vulnerable groups like individuals living in jobless households.

The main objectives of this project can thus be summarized as follows.

1. Document the inter- and intra-countries distributions of key economic and non-economic welfare domains (i.e.: income, education and health) and explore the existing associations between them. Document as well the patterns of family formation, living arrangements, jobless households and gender-specific education expansion between and within countries.

2. Assess the relationship between family formation processes, living arrangements and gendered patterns of education expansion on the one hand and the spatial distribution of welfare and jobless households on the other.
From the beginning to the end of the project we have performed many tasks, which can be grouped in the following categories.

1. Elaboration and publication of research papers

2. Attending conferences, workshops and seminars

3. Database construction

4. Students mentoring and diffusion activities

Results of the project.

In a nutshell, the project aims at investigating the relationship between family formation dynamics, changing education structures and the distribution of pecuniary and non-pecuniary dimensions of well-being. Our research lines can be grouped in different broad areas: (i) Measuring the impact of population growth on countries’ well-being; (ii) Investigating how the process of education expansion that has swept the world during the last decades has unequally benefited some countries and groups (e.g. women) more than others; (iii) Explore the influence of educational marital homogamy on marriage market polarization from a comparative perspective; (iv) Measuring global trends in health inequality; and (v) Measuring the levels of socio-economic development at subnational level across all world countries.

We now summarize the outputs generated in each of these research areas.

(i) We have investigated the impact that population growth has had on different quality of life domains belonging to the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals framework. The findings have been explained in detail in the report “The impact of population and economic growth on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals: Lessons from the past for the future Global Development Agenda”.


(ii) Over the last few years, two important phenomena have attracted the attention of social scientists: the uneven global distribution of educational attainment, and the closing and reversal of the gender gap in educational attainment in favor of women. Our main findings in this research area have been published in the papers “A century of change in global education variability and gender differences in education” (published in PLOS ONE), “Global trends in education inequality:1950-2010” (published in the Journal of Human Development and Capabilities).


(iii) We have examined patterns of assortative mating to investigate the extent to which the expansion of college education, the force of homogamy and the gender gap in education are contributing to the increasing levels of polarization in the marriage market. Our findings have been published in “Decomposing patterns of college marital sorting in 118 countries: Structural constraints versus assortative mating” (published in Social Science Research), and “The Reversal of the Gender Gap in Education and Its Consequences for Family Life”, which appeared in the Annual Review of Sociology.


(iv) Regarding health, we investigated whether, and to what extent, distributions of length of life are equally or unequally distributed across populations. The main findings have been published in the papers “Global trends in lifespan inequality: 1950-2010” (published in PLOS ONE, where we take a global perspective) and “Longevity and Lifespan Variation by Educational Attainment in Spain: 1960–2015” (published in Demography, where we investigate trends in longevity and lifespan inequality across education groups in contemporary Spain).

(v) The documentation of inter- and intra-country disparities in key welfare domains has been reported in the paper “The Subnational Human Development Database”, which has been published in the journal Nature-Scientific Data. That database contains for the period 1990-2018 for 1625 regions within 161 countries the national and subnational values of the Subnational Human Development Index (SHDI), for the three dimension indices on the basis of which the SHDI is constructed – education, health and standard of living –, and for the four indicators needed to create the dimension indices – expected years of schooling, mean years of schooling, life expectancy and gross national income per capita. In a companion paper (“Inequality in Human Development across the Globe”, published in Population and Development Review) we report for the first time the global trends in human development inequality, both within and between countries, during the last decades.
One of the key outcomes of the project has been the creation of the Subnational Human Development Database (SHDD), which includes the Subnational Human Development Index (SHDI). The SHDI is a translation of UNDP’s official HDI (hdr.undp.org) to the subnational level across all world countries. The SHDI database allows uncovering a new geography of global human development inequality, it opens the possibility of studying global socio-economic change with unprecedented detail and increases the ability of policy-makers to monitor and achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of “reducing inequalities between and within countries”. For these reasons, the SHDI project has attracted the attention of UNDP and other international development actors. An updated version of the SHDI has been launched in February 2020.
World distribution of the Subnational Human Development Index