Skip to main content

The fall in income inequality during COVID-19 in four European countries

A Correction to this article was published on 18 February 2022

This article has been updated


We here use panel data from the COME-HERE survey to track income inequality during COVID-19 in France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. Relative inequality in equivalent household disposable income among individuals changed in a hump-shaped way between January 2020 and January 2021, with an initial rise from January to May 2020 being more than reversed by September 2020. Absolute inequality also fell over this period. Due to the pandemic some households lost more than others, and government compensation schemes were targeted towards the poorest, implying that on average income differences decreased. Generalized Lorenz domination reveals that these distributive changes reduced welfare in Italy.

Change history


  • Adams-Prassl, A., Boneva, T., Golin, M., Rauh, C.: Inequality in the impact of the coronavirus shock: Evidence from real time surveys. J. Public. Econ. 189, 104245 (2020)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Almeida, V., Barrios, S., Christl, M., De Poli, S., Tumino, A., van der Wielen, W.: Households’ income and the cushioning effect of fiscal policy measures during the Great Lockdown. J. Econ. Inequal., forthcoming (2021)

  • Alon, T., Doepke, M., Olmstead-Rumsey, J., Tertilt, M.: The impact of COVID-19 on gender equality. Eur. Soc. 23, S228–S245 (2021)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Atkinson, A.B., Brandolini, A.: Global World inequality: absolute, relative or intermediate? Paper prepared for the 28th General IARIW Conference (2004)

  • Beland, L.P., Brodeur, A., Wright, T.: The short-term economic consequences of COVID-19: Exposure to disease, remote work and government response. IZA Discussion Paper No. 13159 (2020)

  • Belot, M., Choi, S., Jamison, J.C., Papageorge, N.W., Tripodi, E., Van den Broek-Altenburg, E.: Unequal consequences of COVID-19 across age and income: representative evidence from six countries. Rev. Econ. Househ. 19, 769–783 (2021)

  • Bonacini, L., Gallo, G., Scicchitano, S.: Working from home and income inequality: risks of a ‘new normal’ with COVID-19. J. Popul. Econ. 34, 303–360 (2020)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bottan, N., Hoffmann, B., Vera-Cossio, D.: The unequal impact of the coronavirus pandemic: Evidence from seventeen developing countries. PLoS One 15, e0239797 (2020)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brewer, M., Gardiner, L.: The initial impact of COVID-19 and policy responses on household incomes. Oxf. Rev. Econ. Policy 36, S187–S199 (2020)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brewer, M., Tasseva, I.: Did the UK policy response to Covid-19 protect household incomes? J. Econ. Inequal., forthcoming (2021)

  • Brodeur, A., Clark, A.E., Flèche, S., Powdthavee, N.: COVID-19, Lockdowns and well-being: evidence from Google trends. J. Public. Econ. 193, 104346 (2021)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brunori, P., Maitino, M.L., Ravagli, L., Sciclone, N.: Distant and unequal. Lockdown and inequalities in Italy. DISEI, Università degli Studi di Firenze, Working Paper No. 13/2020 (2020)

  • Cowell, F.A., Mehta, F.: The estimation and interpolation of inequality measures. Rev. Econ. Stud. 49, 273–290 (1982)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fang, H., Wang, L., Yang, Y.: Human mobility restrictions and the spread of the novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in China. J. Public. Econ. 191, 104272 (2020)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Farré, L., Fawaz, Y., González, L., Graves, J.: How the COVID-19 lockdown affected gender inequality in paid and unpaid work in Spain. IZA Discussion Paper No. 13434 (2020)

  • Ferguson, N., Laydon, D., Nedjati Gilani, G., Imai, N., Ainslie, K., Baguelin, M., Bhatia, S., Boonyasiri, A., Perez, C., Cuomo-Dannenburg, Z., G. et al.: Impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to reduce COVID-19 mortality and healthcare demand. Report published by the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team (2020)

  • Figari, F., Fiorio, C.V.: Welfare resilience in the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak in Italy. EUROMOD Working Paper Series No. 06/20 (2020)

  • Grabka, M.M.: Income inequality in Germany stagnating over the long term, but decreasing slightly during the coronavirus pandemic. DIW Weekly Report 17 + 18 available at: (2021)

  • Guven, C., Sotirakopoulos, P., Ulker, A.: Short-term labour market effects of COVID-19 and the Associated National Lockdown in Australia: Evidence from longitudinal labour force survey. GLO Discussion Paper No. 635 (2020)

  • Layard, R., Clark, A., De Neve, J.-E., Krekel, C., Fancourt, D., Hey, N., O’Donnell, G.: When to release the lockdown: A wellbeing framework for analysing costs and benefits. Centre for Economic Performance, Occasional Paper No. 49 (2020)

  • Li, J., Vidyattama, Y., La, H.A., Miranti, R., Sologon, D.M.: The impact of COVID-19 and policy responses on Australian income distribution and poverty. ArXiv preprint arXiv:2009.04037 (2020)

  • Lourenco, J., Paton, R., Ghafari, M., Kraemer, M., Thompson, C., Simmonds, P., Klenerman, P., Gupta, S.: Fundamental principles of epidemic spread highlight the immediate need for large-scale serological surveys to assess the stage of the sars-cov-2 epidemic. medRxiv (2020)

  • O’Donoghue, C., Sologon, D.M., Kyzyma, I., McHale, J.: Modelling the distributional impact of the COVID-19 crisis. Fisc. Stud. 41, 321–336 (2020)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Palomino, J.C., Rodríguez, J.G., Sebastian, R.: Wage inequality and poverty effects of lockdown and social distancing in Europe. Eur. Econ. Rev. 129, 103564 (2020)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sanfelici, M.: The Italian Response to the COVID-19 Crisis: Lessons Learned and Future Direction in Social Development. Int. J. Commun. Soc. Dev. 2, 191–210 (2020)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shorrocks, A.F.: Ranking income distributions. Economica 50, 3–17 (1983)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Von Hippel, P.T., Hunter, D.J., Drown, M.: Better estimates from binned income data: Interpolated CDFs and mean-matching. Sociol. Sci. 4, 641–655 (2017)

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Conchita D’Ambrosio.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

We would like to thank Thomas Blanchet, Liyousew Borga, Walter Bossert, Michael Förster, Markus Grabka, Sebastian Königs, Giorgia Menta, Vincent Vergnat, Remi Yin and participants at the OECD WISE Webinar Series on COVID-19 and Inequality and a seminar at the University of Luxembourg for their help and feedback. We also thank the Editor, Andreas Peichl, and two anonymous referees for comments that helped improve the paper. Financial support from the French Agence Nationale de la Recherche (DYNPANDEMIC), André Losch Fondation, Art2Cure, Cargolux, and the Fonds National de la Recherche Luxembourg (Grant COVID-19/2020-2/14840950/COME-HERE) is gratefully acknowledged. Andrew Clark acknowledges financial support from the EUR grant ANR-17-EURE-0001.

Supplementary Information


(DOCX 1086 kb)

Rights and permissions

Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Clark, A.E., D’Ambrosio, C. & Lepinteur, A. The fall in income inequality during COVID-19 in four European countries. J Econ Inequal 19, 489–507 (2021).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • COVID-19
  • Income inequality

JEL Classification

  • D63
  • I32
  • I38