Papua New Guinea has a complex distribution of wealth. The extremely varied and rugged terrain kept some indigenous people of the country isolated from any connection with the "modern world" until as late as 1970. This factor, combined with the belated and rapid economic development from the 1970s, has produced a highly variable distribution of income and wealth. While much of the wealth from economic development has been concentrated in urban centers, cultural factors also feature in the distribution of poverty and wealth. Much of Papua New Guinean society is still very traditional, and differs from European-based societies in several important ways. Papua New Guinean society is centered around agriculture and attachment to the land. Land is rarely sold, but instead is inherited by children. Papua New Guinean society has a complex structure, with many bonds among family members, distant relatives, and neighbors. These bonds include obligations to share wealth, and to give and receive gifts. Papua New Guinean society did not and does not have a tradition of chiefs or leaders who gain their status through inheritance. Instead, in traditional Papua New Guinea society men become leaders through their own efforts, especially through the gaining and sharing of wealth. All of these factors are important in the way that wealth is distributed in the country.
Despite these cultural factors, the Papua New Guinea government has made some efforts to decentralize services—especially health and education—and to provide equal access to them throughout the country. These efforts, begun in the 1970s, have made little difference, if any, in greatly varying levels of income and wealth between
|GDP per Capita (US$)|
|Papua New Guinea||1,048||975||936||888||1,085|
|SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.|
|Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage Share: Papua New Guinea|
|Survey year: 1996|
|Note: This information refers to expenditure shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita expenditure.|
|SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].|
urban and remote areas. About 85 percent of the population still depends on subsistence agriculture, and 37 percent of these people are below the poverty line.