Plutarch, c. 100 - 110 AD "An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailments of all republics" "[ …] to neglect persons of poor and mean condition is the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments" Adam Smith, 1759 "We must work together to ensure the equitable distribution of wealth, opportunity, and power in our society" Nelson Mandela, 1996


African Long-term Inequality Trends, AFLIT, is a research network dedicated to constructing social tables for the advancement in mapping, estimating and analysing historical economic inequality trends in the sub-Sahara African region. Today Africa contains the largest between country variations in income inequality in the world, a spectrum that includes Southern Africa where we find extremely high levels. Currently, however, we lack both the empirical evidence and the theoretical understanding to explain the development and diversity of the different pathways. Researchers in AFLIT are committed to filling this empirical and theoretical gap. For more information click here.

Network Aims

The overall aim of AFLIT is to provide a platform for collaborations between researchers interested in constructing social tables for the study of long-term inequality trends in Africa. More concretely, this entails:

  1. Organize workshops and similar events where researchers can discuss and develop comparable empirical studies of long-term inequality trends.
  2. Attract funding and expand our international networks to encourage the construction of a growing number of inequality studies for African economies, particularly for the colonial era. The case studies will be made publicly available in a database.
  3. Disseminate our research to the academic community and other stakeholders such as policy makers and the public through presentations at conferences and public events, publications of academic and non-academic texts, and social media.


Income inequality and export-oriented commercialization in colonial Africa: Evidence from six countries

Today, Africa is characterized by substantial variations in income inequality levels between and within countries. While certain countries in West and North Africa portray a relatively equal distribution of incomes, others, notably in Central, Eastern, and especially Southern Africa, grapple with entrenched inequalities. Scholars have long identified two key historical explanations for the outcomes of African inequality. First, high-income inequality today has been linked to the colonial legacy of a “dual economy”: high wage incomes of expatriate groups and formally employed Africans on the one hand and low (agricultural) incomes for most self-employed Africans on the other (Bigsten 2018; Cogneau…

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Inequality Regimes in Africa From Pre-Colonial Times to the Present

While current levels of economic inequality in Africa receive ample attention from academics and policymakers, we know little about the long-run evolution of inequality in the region. Even the new and influential ‘global inequality literature’ that is associated with scholars like Thomas Piketty, Branko Milanovic, and Walter Scheidel has had little to say about Africa so far. This paper is a first effort to fill that void. Building on recent research in African economic history and utilizing the new theoretical frameworks of the global inequality literature, we chart the long-run patterns and drivers of inequality in Africa from the slave…

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Why social tables remain the coolest tool for historical inequality studies

Studying economic inequality in contemporary settings remains a difficult thing to do. People are typically not too keen on letting you know how much they earn or how rich they are. We often under-report our earnings for fear of rebuke from tax authorities or because it’s a social taboo to speak about money and incomes. So modern economists are left with survey data that may either underestimate or overestimate inequality metrics. But despite these challenges the overall picture we get from many of these studies is more or less accurate. Now imagine looking at long-term inequality where the data situation…

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