3D EU flag, courtesy of Shutterstock

Social inequality matters enormously: to the life chances of individuals and households, particularly among the least advantaged in poorer societies; and for the avoidance of domestic and international conflict, market stability and democratic consolidation. It matters also to the EU, particularly as it engages with the challenges social inequality poses for the economic and democratic development of new member and associated candidate states and their citizens, as well as European states of the former Soviet Union that are on the EU's Eastern borders. The fundamental aim of this project, therefore, was to create and disseminate knowledge that will facilitate the achievement of greater social equality between individuals, social cohesiveness in societies, democratic and market development, and the broader integration of Europe.

The primary focus of the project was on post-Communist Central and Eastern European (CEE) states because these provide a dramatic case in point of how the changing character of social inequality may affect individuals and state development and because they pose particular challenges and opportunities to the European Union. Since the collapse of Communist systems between 1989 and 1991, the overall extent of social inequality in post-Communist Central and Eastern Europe has dramatically worsened in some states and remained relatively stable in others. In all states, we must assume, underlying patterns of social inequality, and the ways in which these are produced and reproduced, have changed considerably as these states and the citizens within them have moved from controlled state economies to (variously successful) forms of market economies. As social inequality in these states has developed in different ways, so too we have observed great variation in their market, democratic and international trajectories. Little is known, however, about the changing character of social inequality in CEE states and about the relationship between social inequality and broader economic, social and political processes at the individual and country levels.

The project addressed the impact of the broad systemic transformations in Central and East European (CEE) states by analysing the character, causes and consequences of social inequality for both individuals and countries in the region. The project was explicitly comparative in character, comparing (i) Central and East European citizens and states and (ii) looking at changes over time in the character and consequences of social inequality within Eastern Europe. Wherever existing data from other regions (OECD and other states) allowed, we also expanded the comparative analysis to include them.

Previous research to in the broader scholarly literature, while very valuable in many respects to the particular issues of Central and Eastern Europe, has tended either to focus only on the individual level aspects of social inequality (e.g., attitudes towards inequality or on macro-level analysis (e.g., health, income, etc). By contrast, this project approached the issue of social inequality as a multi-level problem that required (i) careful attention to the multifaceted nature of social inequality and (ii) integration of data and analysis at both the individual and country levels simultaneously. We regard the causes and consequences of greatest concern to be multi-dimensional. At the individual level, these include forms of social inequality, associated economic and social behaviour, and their attitudinal and cultural correlates. At the country level, these include economic, cultural, as well as institutional factors.

No existing data set at the individual level has the breadth of measures and sufficient range of post-Communist Central and East European cases necessary to address these complex and interconnected issues. Neither is it possible with existing data sources to consider the country-level causes and consequences of social inequality on the dimensions that we regard as most crucial - democratic and market consolidation, economic development, international cooperation, and social cohesion - because these also require knowledge of individual level processes, including political attitudes and behaviour. The distinctive features of the project, therefore, were that (i) it created and integrated a wide range of data sources at both individual and macro levels which (ii) allowed us for the first time to address simultaneously a series of interconnected issues in this economically and politically important region.

  • How can we adequately measure the multifaceted character of social inequality?
  • What are the factors at the individual level that are most associated with patterns of social inequality?
  • What characteristics of the economic, political and institutional arrangements of states have the greatest positive and negative impact on social inequality?
  • What are the consequences of social inequality for individual and household economic behaviour, in particular for intra and inter-generational social mobility?
  • What are the consequences of social inequality for political attitudes, especially towards other social groups, and for political behaviour?
  • What are the consequences of social inequality for economic growth, democratic consolidation and international integration?

These questions will each be addressed comparatively:

  • across countries - comparing countries within post-Communist Central and Eastern Europe, including EU member states, Associated states and countries (Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova) that are on the International Cooperation target list - and, where existing data allows, OECD and other states;
  • over time - comparing the character, causes and consequences of social inequality in CEE states in 2005/6 with the early and mid-1990s

Comparison is possible because the project will create and/or utilise data obtained from:

  • surveys conducted in 13 East European states - these will include a number of key measures developed in surveys undertaken in the early 1990s by Oxford University (the Coordinator- see B4)
  • survey data on the stances of political parties and elites in the same 13 states
  • data from other publicly assessable surveys on social inequality (e.g., ISSP);
  • data from a wide range of macro level sources

News from the project

Project Objectives

The fundamental aim of the project was to create and disseminate knowledge to facilitate the achievement of greater social equality between individuals, social cohesiveness in societies, democratic and market development, and the broader integration of Europe.

External Partners

  • The Department of Politics and International Relations, the University of Oxford, UK
  • Russian Research Ltd. (RR), UK
  • Research School ICS, Department of Sociology, Stichting Katholieke Universiteit of Nijmegen, Netherlands
  • Vilnius University, Department of Sociology, Lithuania (VU)
  • Central European University, Hungary (CEU)
  • Institute of Sociology, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poland (UAM)
  • Charles University, Czech Republic
  • Institute of Sociology, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Bulgaria (IS-BAS)
  • Median Research Centre, Romania (MRC)
  • Foundation “Intellectual Perspective”, Ukraine (CFIP)
  • The Institute of Sociology, Russian Academy of Sciences, Russia (SI-RAS)

Principal Investigator

Professor Stephen Whitefield


Professor Geoffrey Evans


Project Start / End

Jul 2006 - Nov 2009

News & Publications