Poverty and Inequality in Thailand

Thailand has experienced successful economic development but there are still problems of poverty and inequality in the country.


Although Thailand’s GDP should be high enough to remove poverty, there are still approximately 10% of the population living below the poverty line. Meanwhile, the amount of poor people was reduced when comparing with the past. But the gap between rich and poor people is widen. Thailand is the third most unequal country after Russia and India.


Thailand defines poverty line as income of around 52 BAHT per day. In 1986, the poverty rate was 67%. The rate was 21.3% in 2000 because of Asian economic crisis. It was further decreased to 10.9% in 2016 while the number of billionaires has increased from 5 to 28 people during 2010 to 2017. The problem of inequality can be illustrated by income gap. The average monthly salary of Bangkok and Chonburi is 45000 BAHT. As for the Northeast and North area, the average salary is 25000 BAHT per month. Most people living under the poverty can also be found in the Northeast and North regions. Poverty in countryside is still a probelm.


The GINI Index measures income inequality. A higher GINI Index implies more income inequality. Thailand’s GINI Index in 1988 was 43.8. Even though there was a slight decline for the index to 37.8 in 2013, it was still high based on international standards. Reduction in poverty should come along with less income inequality. But this does not happen in Thailand. The truth is only some regions of the country become more prosperous economically.


Difference in level of education attained contributes to poverty and income inequality. The highest education level for agricultural workers in the Northeast, North and Southern regions is usually 6 years of primary school. For people working in service and manufacturing industries in major cities and central regions, they normally receive formal education for 12 years. Thus, they are more likely to be richer.


In addition, economic activities are concentrated in the capital. There are more job opportunities and construction of infrastructure. The country also shifts focus from agricultural development to industrialization. To meet the demand of industrialization, industrialized areas are given priority for infrastructure development. Institutions of higher education are also concentrated in these places. There are more income and wealth disparities due to imbalanced development in urban and rural areas.


Economic development is very important to a country. But the government should take care the needs of both urban and rural areas while boosting the economy. Rural poverty should be tackled soon. Otherwise, there will be more income and wealth inequalities.



  1. General figures and percentages can hide a lot. It is important, for example, to remember that the “North” includes Chiang Mai, one of Thailand’s richest cities and the center of a large and sprawling farang community. In the surrounding areas, however, crushing poverty, endemic hunger, landlessness and a failed public education system condemn many to lives without futures. Simple populist policies of giveaways will not provide permanent solutions. These people need the ability to help themselves. They need schools that teach. They need functional agricultural extension. They need land rights. Talking about Thailand’s progress in percentages obfuscates the fact that in absolute numbers, there are a lot of people being left behind – to say nothing of what it allows us to do about not facing up to, for example, the crisis of national educational failure.

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