Slovakia, Slovenia, and Czechia Lead the World in Wealth Equality

Central and Eastern Europe have the OECD's lowest wealth gap, with six of the top ten most economically equal countries being 3Seas nations. Why is this, and what are the benefits for society?

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Photo: iStock.com / Orbon Alija

Data from the Gini Index – a measure of income inequality – shows that of the OECD countries, six countries of the 3 Seas Initiative (Slovakia, Slovenia, Czechia, Poland, Austria, and Hungary) are in the top ten for lowest levels of income inequality. In other words, wealth in these countries is the most equally distributed.

Why so equal?

There seems to be no single reason why the 3Seas region has become a beacon for financial equality. Some of the countries that rank so well have a socialist or communist past, so they likely started at a more equal point before morphing into capitalist societies. However, other countries with no hint of communism in their histories also feature in the top ten.

And if we examine income inequality for the whole globe, countries with a history of hardline communism – Russia, China, Vietnam, for example – have some of the highest levels of income inequality today.

One possible reason that a country like America displays high levels of wealth inequality is the high prevalence of billionaires. According to data from Forbes, with 1.85 billionaires per million people, the US has one of the highest billionaire rates in the world, along with high levels of inequality. Compare this to Austria with one billionaire per million people, Czechia with 0.74, Slovakia with 0.36, Poland with 0.18, Hungary with just 0.10, or Slovenia, which has no billionaires at all.

While average levels of wealth across Central and Eastern Europe are lower in terms of GDP when compared to Western Europe or North America, the wealth is distributed far more equally; there are fewer billionaires but fewer people in extreme poverty.

What are the effects of economic equality?

According to Danny Dorling, Professor of Human Geography at the University of Oxford and author of the book ‘The Equality Effect,’ countries that have high levels of economic equality benefit from numerous side effects: less crime, higher levels of creativity, happiness, and health, higher levels of trust for their fellow citizens and increased social cohesion.

Indeed, Numbeo’s Safety Index shows some correlation with economic equality; Slovenia, Estonia, Croatia, and Czechia rank among the top ten European countries for the highest levels of personal security.

Bigging up Billionaires vs. Extolling Equality

One might assume that in a country with high levels of inequality – those in the upper tranche may not care. Yet, according to Danny Dorling from The Guardian: “Inequalities harm the rich as well as the poor. The rich are not necessarily especially hard-working, well-behaved, happy, or creative. Some are obsessed with making money and can be driven by that. Most behave much better when they are more like the rest of us; when they have less.”

The average lifestyle of citizens living in the more equal 3Seas region may be less ‘Instagrammable’ than the luxury yachts, mansions, and private islands of US billionaires and Russian oligarchs. Yet Slovakia, Slovenia, Czechia, Poland, Austria, and Hungary quietly offer the vast majority of their citizens a high quality of life. And that is something to shout about.

Sam Baldwin

is the author of For Fukui’s Sake; Two years in rural Japan, and founder of BregDesign.com – Slovenia-inspired designs. He has written for The Guardian, The Times, Men's Health, and numerous guidebooks and websites. He currently lives in Austria’s Deep South.

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