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Keywords:

  • inequality;
  • redistribution;
  • social income transfers;
  • welfare states;
  • OECD countries

In most OECD countries, the gap between rich and poor has widened over the past decades. The present study analysed whether and to what extent direct taxes and social transfers contribute to this trend. The study contributes to the literature by disentangling several parts of fiscal redistribution in a comparative setting. We used micro-data from the Luxembourg Income Study to examine household market inequality and redistribution from transfers and taxes for 20 countries from the mid-1980s to the mid-2000s. The contribution of each programme was estimated using a sequential accounting budget incidence decomposition technique. We observed a sizeable increase in primary household inequality, but tax-benefit systems have offset two thirds of the average increase in primary income inequality. The public old-age pensions attributed 60 per cent to the increase in redistribution, while social assistance accounted for 20 per cent. Direct taxes slowed down redistribution by 16 per cent.