Global dividend payouts to shareholders rise 14 times faster than worker pay since 2020

Published: 1st May 2024


  • Global dividend payouts to rich shareholders jumped by 45 percent in real terms between 2020 and 2023, while workers’ wages rose by just 3 percent
  •  The richest 1 percent, simply for owning stock, pocketed on average $9,000 in dividends in 2023 —it would take the average worker eight months of hard work to earn this much in wages.

Global dividend payments to shareholders grew on average 14 times faster than worker pay in 31 countries, which together account for 81 percent of global GDP, between 2020 and 2023, reveals Oxfam’s new analysis ahead of International Workers’ Day (May 1).

Global corporate dividends are on course to beat an all-time high of $1.66 trillion reached last year, according to the Janus Henderson Global Dividend Index, which covers the world’s largest 1,200 corporations, representing 90 percent of global dividends paid. Data for both dividends and wages for 2020-2023 are available for 31 countries, and Oxfam’s research shows:

  • After adjusting for inflation, global dividend payouts climbed by 45 percent ($195 billion) in 31 countries between 2020 and 2023, while wages grew by just 3 percent.
  • Excluding China, which accounts for most of this wage growth, global real wages in these countries fell by 3 percent during this period.

The trend of rising dividends has worrying effects on inequality. The ILO has recently warned that "income inequality has widened.”

Using data from Wealth-X, Oxfam estimates that the richest 1 percent, who now own 43 percent of all global financial assets, pocketed on average $9,000 in dividends in 2023. This is equivalent to eight months of hard work and wages for the average worker.

“Corporate profits and payouts to rich shareholders have gone into the stratosphere, while wages continue to go nowhere. Millions of people hold jobs that trap them in a cycle of working hard while still unable to afford enough food, medicine or other basics. The super-rich don’t amass their mega-fortunes by ‘working’ —they extract it from people who do,” said Oxfam International interim Executive Director Amitabh Behar.

Oxfam’s analysis of Global Living Wage Coalition (GLWC) data from countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America, found that:

  • Only 2 out of 37 countries have a minimum wage above the living wage —a pay rate the GLWC estimates allows workers to meet basic needs, such as housing, food, healthcare, clothing and transportation. Minimum wages on average provide just 38 percent of the wage needed for a living wage.  
  • Bangladesh’s minimum wage provides a mere 6 percent of a living wage, and in Ghana it provides just 12 percent.

These findings reinforce warnings by the ILO of rising numbers of working people living in poverty ―skipping meals, getting into debt, and going without the basics. Using ILO data on in-work poverty, Oxfam found that:

  • Nearly 1 in 5 workers globally earns a wage below the $3.65 PPP poverty line. 
  • 66 percent of workers in low-income countries earn poverty wages —a level of pay that doesn’t clear the $3.65 PPP poverty line. This is a 1 percent increase since 2020, which marked the reversal of a long-term decline. 
  • Afghanistan (22 percent) and Sri Lanka (9 percent) have seen some of the largest increases in in-work poverty at the $6.85 PPP poverty line

“No corporation should be shelling out to rich shareholders unless it’s paying a living wage to all its workers. Governments must cap payouts to shareholders, support trade unions and legislate for living wages. We should be rewarding work, not wealth,” said Behar.

Notes to editors

Some numbers have been rounded to no decimal place. Download Oxfam’s  methodology note for more detailed information.

May Day, celebrated by workers across the globe as International Workers’ Day, falls on May 1.

The Janus Henderson Global Dividend Index analyses the world’s largest 1,200 companies by market capitalization, representing 90 percent of global dividends paid. The next 1,800 only represent 10 percent, so due to their size, their effects on the results are negligible. Janus Henderson forecasts dividends will hit new record of $1.72 trillion in 2024.

According to the ILO, income inequality has widened.

Contact information

Annie Thériault in Peru | | +51 936 307 990
Lisa Rutherford in the UK | | +447917791836

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