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‘Money and (dis)connection’: Income inequality and network disadvantage as barriers to sustainable technology adoption



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Valenzuela, Nicolas  ORCID logo


Scholars have highlighted the role of income distribution as a fundamental factor to understand consumption, health, adoption of technologies, social cohesion, democratic stability, and long term economic performance, among other phenomena. Moreover, reducing income inequality was included in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. However, less attention has been put on the link between differences in household incomes and other pressing sustainability challenges, such as those that depend on massive adoption of new technologies within network industry sectors: telecommunications, waste management, transport, energy and water. Does existent income inequality translate into adoption gaps within these sectors? Is inequality an obstacle for advancing the vision of an inter-connected and more sustainable world? This research explores these questions through seven stand-alone papers, which focus on adoption of broadband internet, municipal recycling and railway passenger transport. Part I of the thesis includes four papers based on publicly available data from traditional mainstream sources. Chapter 1 provides a systematic map of the peer-reviewed literature on the link between income inequality and adoption of the three selected network technologies. Chapter 2 looks at country-level panel data from OECD countries. Chapter 3 analyses cross-sectional data in a broader world-wide sample. Chapter 4 compares borough-level recycling and income distribution in two European cities: London (United Kingdom) and Barcelona (Spain). Part II provides an in-depth analysis of two South American metropolitan areas: Santiago (Chile) and Medellín (Colombia). This part includes three papers (chapters 5, 6 and 7), each one focusing on a specific sector, that employ mixed-methods based on fieldwork conducted in both cities. The main contributions of the thesis are new evidence on the negative effect of income inequality on network technology adoption, and a discussion of the role of formal and informal institutions in this relationship.





Abreu, Maria


income inequality, technology adoption, network industries, institutional economics, Latin America


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge