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The income of the super-rich is rising unabated in Switzerland

Over the past twenty years, Switzerland’s top 1% tax payers have seen their income rise strongly despite the international financial crisis, according to an article by Isabel Martinez published in the 11th issue of the series Social Change in Switzerland. The probability to stay in this income group from one year to another has been constantly high.

The rise of income was especially strong among the super-rich: the 450 most wealthy tax payers (the top 0.01%) have seen their share of overall income in Switzerland almost double since the 1980s. The 2008 crisis hardly made a dent in this upwards trend, which can also be observed at an international level, particularly in the United States.

To date, very few studies have been conducted over the length of the period during which the persons with the highest incomes remain at the top. Based on data from the Swiss Old Age and Survivors’ Pensions Information Service, Isabel Martinez observes that 80% of the richest individuals tend to maintain their position the following year. After five years, the share of people remaining in this top group is still 60%. These figures are surprisingly stable since 1981.  “The observed rise in inequality has therefore not been compensated for by greater income mobility”, the researcher concludes. Common measures of inequality like the Gini-Index, taking into account the income of all contributors to the Swiss Old Age and Survivors’ Pensions, confirm this result.

Isabel Martinez’s study also allows us to gain a better understanding of who exactly the highest earners in Switzerland are. Foreign-born tax payers represent around one third of the richest percentile. Women, on the other hand, are substantially under-represented in this top percentile; they only account for 10% of the latter despite making up 46% of the active population.

>> Isabel Martinez (2017). Die Topeinkommen in der Schweiz seit 1980: Verteilung und Mobilität / Les hauts revenus en Suisse depuis 1980: répartition et mobilité. Social Change in Switzerland No 11. Retrieved from www.socialchangeswitzerland.ch

Contact: Isabel Martinez, isabel.martinez@unisg.ch, +41 79 560 27 26

The series Social Change in Switzerland documents the evolution of Switzerland’s social structure. It is edited by the Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences FORS, the Life Course and Inequalities Research Centre of the University of Lausanne LINES , and the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES – Overcoming Vulnerability: Life Course Perspectives (NCCR LIVES). The aim is to monitor change in employment, family, income, mobility, voting, or gender in Switzerland. Based on cutting edge empirical research, the series targets a wider audience than just academic experts.