Wednesday, April 20, 2011


The United States has the 2nd highest household income after taxes and benefits in the OECD (31000 US$) after Luxembourg. France is just above OECD average (21000 US$) - that is in part due to the higher taxes and benefits.

But US income is distributed relatively unequally with the 4th highest rate of income inequality in the OECD. This is not really a surprise.
The US comes 29th out of 31 countries in terms of poverty level, and France is 6th (before Denmark, Sweden, Czech Republic, Austria & Norway) - 1/5 of the American population is considered poor.

The average income of the richest 10% in the U.S. is the highest level in the OECD. However, the poorest 10% of the US citizens have an income about 20% lower than the average for OECD countries. (see here)

According to the OECD, this is due to 2 factors :
- greater distribution of earning in the U.S. than in other OECD countries (by 20% since the 1980s)
-the low level of social benefits (such as unemployment and family benefits) : only 9% compared to 22% in the OECD.

Poverty rate

(persons living with less than 50% of median equivalised household income.)

GINI coefficient







OECD average



However, in France – the poorest 20% get just 16% of spending on benefits, which means that a great deal of the social spending gets to the middle-class.
France is one of only five OECD countries where income inequality and poverty have declined over the past 20 years. (see here)


The French are not very generous : only 31% of them give money, help strangers, or do volunteer work, compared to 60% of American and the OECD average of 39%.

This, I believe, is correlated to the high taxes and social benefits in France as the national consensus is that social problems are the government's responsibility through taxes - not the private citizens'. (A lot of them will use the high level of taxes as a reasoning for not giving more - "On paie déjà assez!)

So "fraternité" is supposed to be a Republican ideal secured by the government not an individual requirement.

The same applies to the wealthy - not any time soon will a French Bill Gates give half his fortune to a foundation. Contrary to the U.S. philanthropists have always been a rare kind in France.

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