School of Psychological Science

Postgraduate Profiles


Jaqueline De Oliveira Haupt

Phone: (+61 8) 6488 3252

Start date

Mar 2011

Submission date

Mar 2014

Curriculum vitae

Jaqueline De Oliveira Haupt CV
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Updated 25 Jul 2012

Jaqueline De Oliveira Haupt

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National economic inequality and environmental performance – Statistical correlations and path analysis models


Aims of the study:

1.To verify whether there is a correlation between income inequality and environmental performance indicators in a large sample of nations at different levels of economic development for a particular point in time;

2.To verify whether there is a correlation between income inequality and environmental performance indicators for selected nations at different levels of economic development over time;

3.To explore the potential explanations for the correlations found or not found;

4.To set up path models that can describe potential causal relationships between national income inequality and environmental sustainability;

5.To test various path models for the selected nations;

6.To describe the policies implications in order to correct nations’ development course towards environmental sustainability.

Why my research is important

Ensuring that natural resources are consumed and waste is produced at a sustainable rate is one of the major contemporary challenges that nations face. However, it is estimated that rates of consumption and waste production were at least 25% higher than the capacity of the planet to provide resources and absorb waste in 2003 (Kitzes, et al., 2007) and possibly this rate reached 50% in 2007 (WWF, 2010). A vital aspect of achieving sustainability is widespread behaviour change, yet the current theoretical knowledge of societal transformation processes is limited (Pahl-Wostl, 2002). In order to improve nations’ environmental performance, a better understanding of socioeconomic and behavioural forces driving such unsustainable development is required.

There is general agreement that one of the key influences on the quality of the environment is the level of economic growth as measured by per capita national income (Constatini & Martini, 2010). However, research into the relationship between economic growth and environmental damage over time and among countries has produced conflicting results. It appears that economic growth may not be ultimately and necessarily beneficial (Magnani, 2000) and other factors make a major contribution to environmental outcomes.

Boyce (1994) theorized that income distribution rather than absolute levels of income may be a critical determinant of the state of the environment overall. Research using global, cross-national, regional and local data has confirmed that there are negative correlations between income inequality and a range of inter-related environmental indicators, including air and water pollution, waste levels, species loss, meat and water consumption and composite measures, such as the ecological footprint (Andrich, et al., 2010; Baland, et al., 2007; Butler, 2002; Dorling, 2010a; Holland, et al., 2009; Mikkelson, et al., 2007).

However, there has been some criticism of these findings from cross-national studies. One major limitation is the restricted number of countries analysed, both in number and type. Another limitation of the research to date is the lack of comparisons of composite indices that attempt to capture different aspects of environmental performance. This proposed research will respond to these criticisms and will extend previous cross-national research on the correlational analyses of economic inequality and environmental performance by:

(1) Analysing a larger, more representative sample of countries at different stages of economic development; and

(2) Comparing nations’ scores on a variety of environmental composite indexes, avoiding conclusions dependent on nations’ rank position of a single indicator.

Although correlational research has been conducted assessing the relationship between income distribution and environmental indicators, the pathways underlying these linkages are yet to be established. There is need for more investigations into the different types of mechanisms through which the relevant processes may operate (Baland, et al., 2007; Mikkelson, et al., 2007). While there are several hypothesized explanations for this relationship, there are few empirical tests of these propositions in the relevant research. It is possible that through inducing lower expenditure on environmental protection, higher consumerism or lower collective action, economic inequality may affect nations’ environment performance. To date, there has been a lack of empirical analyses establishing the potential causal links between income inequality and environmental degradation. These will be explored as part of the present research as well.


Andrich, M. A., Imberger, J., & Oxburgh, E. R. (2010). Raising Utility and Lowering Risk through Adaptive Sustainability: Society and Wealth Inequity in Western Australia. Journal of Sustainable Development, 3(3), 14-35.

Baland, J.-M., Bardan, P., & Bowles, S. (Eds.). (2007). Inequality, cooperation, and environmental sustainability. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Boyce, J. K. (1994). Inequality as a cause of environmental degradation. Ecological Economics, 11(1994), 169-178.

Butler, C. D. (2002). Inequality and Sustainability. Doctoral thesis, Australian National University, Canberra. Retrieved from

Constatini, V., & Martini, C. (2010). A Modified Environmental Kuznets Curve for sustainable development assessment using panel data. Int. J. Global Environmental Issues, 10(1/2), 84-122.

Dorling, D. (2010b). Social Inequality and Environmental Justice. Environmental Scientist, 19(3), 9-13.

Holland, T. G., Peterson, G. D., & Gonzalez, A. (2009). A Cross-National Analysis of How Economic Inequality Predicts Biodiversity Loss. Conservation Biology, 23(5), 1304-13013.

Kitzes, J. A., Peller, A., Goldfinger, S. H., & Wackernagel, M. (2007). Current methods for calculating national footprint accounts. Science for Environment and Sustainable Society, 4(1), 1-9.

Magnani, E. (2000). The Environmental Kuznets Curve, environmental protection policy and income distribution. Ecological Economics, 32(2000), 431-443.

Mikkelson, G. M., Gonzalez, A., & Peterson, G. D. (2007). Economic Inequality Predicts Biodiversity Loss. PLoS ONE, 2(5), e444. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0000444

Pahl-Wostl, C. (2002). Towards sustainability in the water sector: The importance of human actors and processes of social learning. Aquatic Sciences, 64(2002), 394–411.

WWF International. (2010) Living planet report 2010. Gland: WWF International. Retrieved September 29, 2011, from


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