Tariff Reduction and Income Inequality: Some Empirical Evidence

Jorge Rojas-Vallejos, Stephen J. Turnovsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


This paper explores the relationship between tariff reductions and income inequality for 37 countries over the period 1984 to 2010, a period of extensive trade liberalization. Using panel data techniques we find that a permanent reduction in the tariff rate will significantly increase short-run income inequality. To obtain further insight into how the distribution of income is affected, we also estimate the impact of tariffs on income shares by quintiles. We find that the relative income of the lowest quintile is the most adversely affected, while the greatest beneficiaries are the agents in the second richest quintile. By adopting a panel data approach, and including a wide range of control variables, we are confident that these findings reflect causal effects rather than merely reflecting spurious correlations. We also find that reducing tariffs will likely increase long-run income inequality, although these results are less conclusive. The empirical evidence provides some support for the proposition that the speed with which, and the initial level from which, the tariff is adjusted affects income inequality. Finally, our empirical analysis confirms the conventional result that tariff reductions have an expansionary effect on aggregate output. This suggests that tariff reduction involves at least a short-run tradeoff between increasing the level of economic activity coupled with more income inequality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)603-631
Number of pages29
JournalOpen Economies Review
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2017


  • Empirical evidence
  • Income inequality
  • Tariff reduction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics


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