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Trends shaping the future: Inequality

The world would be a better place if things were more equal. However, poverty, misery and injustice keep the world under a spell also in the twenty-first century. Challenges also represent opportunities, which we seek to highlight in investigating the vast topic of inequality.

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Inequalities are often a result of the competitive nature of human beings to strive for innovation and competitive advantage. At their core, these imbalances need not necessarily be unjust but can be important drivers for economic growth and development. However, the institutionalisation of imbalances through abusive power and prejudice-driven constraints is simply unfair. From an economic perspective, the roots of inequality are a crucial constraint for economic progress, resulting not only in international economic imbalances but also in social imbalances in terms of opportunities for population groups, such as unequal access to healthcare, education or jobs. Wealth inequality, often associated with gender and racial inequality is both a source and amplifier of imbalances and is likely one of the largest challenges for society in the current decade. Nevertheless, challenges also represent opportunities, which we also seek to highlight in investigating the vast topic of inequality.

Global education
As nineteenth-century American educational reformer Horace Mann once said, “education, then, beyond all other divides of human origin, is a great equaliser of conditions of men – the balance wheel of the social machinery”. Holding onto this idea of social equality, policymakers and scholars all over the world have come to believe over time that education should be made available for every individual, regardless of gender, ethnic, or socioeconomic background. Indeed, children who go to school have more and better opportunities in the future since education provides them with the chance to break the cycle of poverty. After all, they are more likely to marry later, earn higher incomes, and enjoy better health. School attendance can also serve as crucial protection for children and youth from perilous alternatives, such as child labour and other terrible forms of abuse and exploitation. Even for adults with the most basic education, the ability to read, write, and count not only raises their likelihood of employment but also reduces their sense of isolation from society. Therefore, education remains an ever-critical component of sustainable, personal development.

Unfortunately, access to education is, however, not equally distributed. Certain income classes or ethnic groups simply do not have equal opportunities to access education. Growing wealth in emerging markets nurtures the global education industry as a whole, but challenges remain how to help those left behind. EdTech, the combined use of computer hardware, software, and educational theory, can close educational gaps and prevent learning loss. This not only benefits human development but also unlocks potentially promising human capital.

Wealth inequality
Unequal distribution of wealth lies at the core of most inequality issues. Its roots are not only often engrained in socio-cultural norms, but institutionalised, making it hard to tackle. Persuading countries to change their institutional or juridical frameworks, to reduce corruption or to implement adequate levels of wealth redistribution are political minefields. However, investments in more subtle areas can make large differences. Microcredits or facilitated access to banking services through technology may be the starting point to help many escape the poverty trap.

Economic empowerment
Reducing entry barriers on gender or ethnic level can be rewarding in setting free the full economic potential. For example, much of the rise of economic welfare in the twentieth century is attributable to the inclusion of women in the workforce. Nevertheless, challenges remain, as discrimination remains a limiting factor in many countries. Investing in the economic empowerment of minorities is arguably one of the most important global economic drivers in the current phase of demographics-driven secular stagnation.

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