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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Price-sensitive inequality measurement Kwong, Sunny Kai-Sun


The existing inequality indexes in the economics literature (including the more sophisticated indexes of Muellbauer (1974) and Jorgenson-Slesnick (1984)), are found to be insensitive to relative price changes or are unjustifiable in terms of social evaluation ethics or both. The present research fills this gap in the literature by proposing a new index, named the Individual Equivalent Income (IEI) index. A household indirect utility function is hypothesized which incorporates certain attribute parameters in the form of equivalence scales. These attributes are demographic and environmental characteristics specific to a given household. This indirect utility function gives a number which represents the utility of each member of the household. A particular level of interpersonal comparison of utilities is assumed which gives rise to an exact individual utility indicator named equivalent income. A distribution of these equivalent incomes forms the basis of a price-sensitive relative inequality index. This index can be implemented in the Canadian context. Preferences are assumed to be nonhomothetic translog and demand data are derived from cross-section surveys and time-series aggregates. Based on demand data, the translog equivalent income function can be estimated and equivalent incomes imputed to all individuals in society. An Atkinson index of equivalent incomes is then computed to indicate the actual degree of inequality in Canada. The new IEI index is compared with other indexes based on a common data set. The main findings are: conventional indexes give bad estimates of the true extent of inequality and the IEI index, while providing a more accurate estimate, indicates distributive price impact in a predictable manner, i.e., food price inflation aggravates while transportation price inflation ameliorates the inequality problem.

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