Social Policy Perspectives on Economic Inequality in Wealthy Countries

Leanne S. Giordono, Michael D. Jones, and David W. Rothwell


This essay reviews the policy-oriented literature on economic inequality in wealthy countries published from 2008 to 2018. We focus on this decade because it is a period bookended by both the beginnings of the Great Recession of 2008–2009 as well as the recovery. During this timeframe, attention to inequality by social policy scholars grew substantially, which we argue reflects an interest in both inequality trends as well as redistributive social policy. We observe in the literature sustained efforts to understand both the relationship between social policy and economic inequality, as well as determinants of changes to redistributive social policy. We also note substantial variation in research traditions, as well as opportunities to address substantive, methodological, and theoretical gaps. Our review summarizes the approaches and findings from the literature and discusses the implications of the findings for the study of economic inequality within the academic field of public policy.

KEY WORDS: inequality, economic inequality, social policy, policy analysis, welfare states