Income polarization in global cities

Essay, 2008

4 Pages, Grade: 1,4


Task: Global cities have experienced growing income inequality in that the gap between the rich and the poor has widened considerably. Suggest two factors that lead to income polarization in global cities. Discuss ways forward in confronting these challenges. (500 words).

Global cities do not only reflect wealth and power, but also concentrate squalor and poverty in terms of growing income inequalities, prompting some authors to speak of “dual cities” (e.g. Parnreiter 2006, p. 3). In fact, processes of functional changes have lead to an increase at the top and bottom ends of distribution. Several factors for this polarization of salaries can be made up, whereat I am going to illuminate two of them: the influx of people on the one hand as well as structural changes in the world of employment on the other, and last but not least I will highlight some possible solutions.


Loads of immigrants from predominantly rural areas (China!) or from abroad make efforts to make a better life in the big cities. These people are often already poor and lack in addition the necessary skills to find steady and well-paid jobs. Many find “low-level service jobs” (Friedmann 1986, p. 77) or other irregular, occasional and temporary jobs (e.g. as street hawkers or nannies), or even in the informal sector such as prostitution (Davis 2007, p. 1). Meanwhile, masses are struggling for their daily survival in cities – and yet these places still attract large numbers of people.

The Population Information Program accounts for two main categories of factors that lead to a high-level immigration into large cities: so called push- and pull-factors. People are driven into cities by the former ones due to deteriorating conditions in the countryside (diminishing quantity / quality of agricultural lands, poor market infrastructures etc.), while the latter impel them as urban areas offer more opportunities (better education, health care etc.) (2002, p. 6).

Structural Changes

The substantial change in functions has turned global cities into “command and control centres for transnational and multinational corporations and finance capital […]” (Hamnett 1994, p. 1). The decline of urban industries and the emergence of the “new economy” in terms of service orientated and highly specialized (financial) businesses have altered the organisation of work, the demand for employees, and hence the distribution of incomes resulting in a shrinking middle class (which formerly was quite strong and working in the manufacturing business to a large extent).

The leading service sector attracts well qualified specialists (“transnational elite”, Hamnett 1994, p. 4), but at the same time also a bunch of low-level workers. Growth took e.g. place in the fields of tourism, restaurants, and entertainment to cater for the new rich (Parnreiter 2006). Moreover, Hamnett notes that “the share of unionised shops declines and wages deteriorate while sweatshops and industrial homework proliferate” (1994, p. 5)


Excerpt out of 4 pages


Income polarization in global cities
Free University of Berlin  (Center for Global Politics)
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ISBN (eBook)
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427 KB
income, polarization, Polarisierung, Einkommen, global city, income inequality, migration, mega-city, Megacity
Quote paper
Natalie Züfle (Author), 2008, Income polarization in global cities, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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