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Long-term trends in income inequality: Winners and losers of economic change in Ghana, 1891–1960

Prince Young Aboagye Lund University
Jutta Bolt Lund University


This paper contributes to a growing literature on long-term trends and drivers of pre-industrial inequality by providing new stylized facts on the evolution of income inequality in Ghana from 1891 to 1960. Using newly constructed social tables, we estimate the Gini coefficient for seven consecutive decades at a time in which the adoption and expansion of cocoa cultivation transformed the Ghanaian economy. Income inequality was already high in 1891, prior to the spread of cocoa cultivation, and it remained stable for four decades. Following a small decline in the early 1930s, inequality increased, reaching its highest level at the end of the colonial era. The expansion of cocoa cultivation and increasing cocoa incomes contributed to persistent high inequality levels until the 1930s. By contrast, the increase in inequality from 1930 to 1960 was largely due to the rising incomes of government employees, skilled workers, and commercial workers.

Explorations in Economic History