Inequality is a problem in Australia and has been getting worse.

There is a widening gap between the highest and lowest income earners in most wealthy countries; and this gap has been widening over the past twenty to thirty years in Australia as well.

People in the top 20% of income earners have been pulling away from the majority of us at an increasing rate since the Global Financial Crisis in 2007.

Why is this a problem?

Excessive inequality is a problem for any society. It means that people have unequal ability to take part in social and economic opportunities, and it undermines the cohesiveness of that society.

Excessive inequality is also a problem for any economy. Resources become concentrated in fewer hands, resulting in reduced economic participation for the majority. Practically, this results in fewer new businesses started; fewer house purchases; and fewer purchasing of goods and services. It also leads to increased dependency on government intervention.

There are two main ways to measure inequality.

  1. Income inequality: how much income is received by a person or household.
  2. Wealth inequality: how much wealth is held by a person or household.

Wealth inequality is higher in Australia than income inequality.

In a country that prides itself on its egalitarian traditions, the reality of income and wealth inequality in Australia comes as a shock to many.

Inequality has risen in Australia

The latest OECD Economic Survey of Australia 2017 reports unequivocally that inequality has risen in Australia.

The Inequality Report 2015
inequality report front

Inequality in Australia: A nation divided revealed that, when it comes to income inequality, Australia’s income inequality is higher than average for the OECD, although not as bad as in the US or UK.

In terms of average income, somebody in the highest 20% has around five times as much income as somebody in the lowest 20% income group.

In terms of average wealth, somebody in the highest 20% has around seventy times as much wealth as somebody in the lowest 20% wealth group.

The paper that reveals the methodology behind the report is available here.

An HTML version of the report is available at:

community-perspectives-social-inequality2Perceptions of inequality

Paired with ACOSS’ report on inequality, Ipsos in conjunction with ACOSS, has produced a report into perceptions of inequality. This report provides an insight into how inequality is perceived in Australia. It shows that people care strongly about the fairness of Australian society; and shows that there is a perception that the fairness for which Australia is renowned is declining. The report shows genuine concern about how others are faring; older people worrying about how young people will get paid work; the perception that first-time home buyers are struggling in today’s property market; and a concern that spans the generations about how older people are faring.

 How do you fare in the inequality stakes?

Inequality in Australia: A nation divided looks at inequality through the lens of income and wealth inequality by household, based on 2012 figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (the latest available data).

The table below gives the average income and wealth by household in each quintile (a statistical value representing 20% of the population, of which the first quintile represents the lowest fifth of the population, 1-20%; the second quintile represents the second fifth, 21-40% and so on), to show how your household fares when it comes to income and wealth in equality in Australia.



ACOSS released our report into inequality in Australia in June 2015 as part of our Poverty and Inequality in Australia series. This report was supported by: the Social Justice Fund, a sub-fund of Australian Communities Foundation; Anglicare Australia; The Salvation Army; and the St Vincent de Paul Society. Read the media release here.

The factsheet and other communications resources for this project were supported by the Reichstein Foundation and by BB & A Miller Fund, Hartline Fund, and Social Justice Fund, sub-funds of Australian Communities Foundation.

Read a factsheet on inequality in Australia.