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Overview of Trends of Economic Inequality in Malaysia


Has the dispersion of earnings been increasing in recent decades?No evidence.
Has overall inequality increased in recent years?No, the Gini coefficient fell from mid-1970s up to 1990, remained relatively stable up to 2000 and started to fall again.
Have there been periods when overall inequality fell for a sustained period?Yes, from 1976 to 1990 the Gini coefficient decreased by 8 percentage points.
Has poverty been falling or rising in recent decades?Falling. Percentage of households below absolute poverty line fell from 49 to 11 percent from 1970 to 1995.
Has there been a U-pattern for top income shares over time?Not very clear in the data. Top shares started to rise in 2000.
Has the distribution of wealth followed the same pattern as income?No evidence.
Additional noteworthy features

Sources and References

Sources for the historical data series:

Overall inequality: Gini coefficient for household income (not equivalised), series 1 from Snodgrass (1980, Tables 4.3, 4.6 and 4.7); series 2, from Department of Statistics Malaysia, Household Income and Basic Amenities Survey Report 2009 and 2012, from Ragayah (2008, Table 1), with 1967 observation from Krongkaew and Ragayah (2006, Table 2).

Top income shares: Shares of top 1 and 0.1 per cent in total gross income from WTID, based on Atkinson (forthcoming).

Poverty: Share of bottom 40 per cent in total household income (not equivalised) from Ragayah (2008, Table 1); percentage of households below official absolute poverty line from Snodgrass (2002, Table 2-1).

Individual Earnings: No suitable data were found. Wealth: No suitable data were found.


  • Atkinson, A B, “Top incomes in Malaysia 1947 to the present”, WTID Methodological Note, December 2013.
  • Department of Statistics Malaysia, 2009, Household Income and Basic Amenities Survey Report.
  • Department of Statistics Malaysia, 2012, Household Income and Basic Amenities Survey Report.
  • Krongkaew, Medhi and Ragayah, Haji Mat Zin, 2006, “Income distribution and sustainable economic development in East Asia: A comparative analysis”, paper available from EADN Network.
  • Ragayah, H M Z, 2008, “Income inequality in Malaysia”, Asian Economic Policy Review, vol 3: 114-132.
  • Snodgrass, D R, 1980, Inequality and economic development in Malaysia, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  • Snodgrass, D R, 2002, “Economic growth and income inequality: The Malaysian experience” in M G Asher, D Newman and T P Snyder, editors, Public policy in Asia, Quorum Books, Westport.