Is Inequality Really Declining in Malaysia?

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Official statistics report rapidly declining household income inequality in Malaysia during the 2000s. However, this phenomenon has passed unnoticed and unexplained, while public discourse widely asserts that inequality has either risen or remained high. In particular, salaries and wealth are perceived to be increasingly concentrated at the top. Difficulties in accessing national income survey data necessitate exploration of other data sources, which permit this article to investigate trends in personal earnings and wealth inequality. Recent information on retirement savings, as well as public sector employment and car sales, indicate earnings rising moderately or holding steady, marked by higher growth in the uppermost segments. On wealth ownership, housing sales record high growth at the top and lagging growth in the bottom half; while unit trust fund ownership suggests similar trends, particularly within the majority Bumiputera population. Our findings, while exhibiting gaps, shed some light on the state of inequality and broadly concur with public perceptions of rising or persistently high inequality. This study also underscores the multi-dimensionality of inequality and the importance of researching structural inequalities in labour and asset markets.




Lee, H. A., & Khalid, M. A. (2020). Is Inequality Really Declining in Malaysia? Journal of Contemporary Asia, 50(1), 14–35.

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