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Sri Lanka liberalized its economy in 1977, paving the way for more rapid economic growth and higher rates of job creation. But tensions over distributional issues still plague the body politic. This paper investigates the evolution of Sri Lanka's expenditure distribution in the period 1980–2002 and uses three decomposition methodologies—the Fields, the Shapley value decomposition, and Yun's unified method—to determine underlying causes. The study finds that while average adjusted expenditure rose across strata, the rich experienced more rapid expenditure growth leading to greater inequality. Inequality change was driven by differential access to infrastructure, education, and occupation status. Demographic factors, including ethnicity, and spatial factors contributed very little. The study recommends policies that ensure more equitable access to income earning assets such as education and infrastructure services, and that contain the rise in inequality along sectoral, regional, and ethnic fault lines.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Monash University

Publication date: December 1, 2009

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