Tracking the Middle-Income Trap: What is It, Who is in It, and Why? (Part 2)

Publication | March 2012

This paper provides empirical evidence that supports the hypothesis that some countries get stuck in the middle-income trap as a result of not being able to increase the diversification and sophistication of their export packages.

This paper proposes and analyzes one possible reason why some countries get stuck in the middle-income trap: the role played by the changing structure of the economy (from low-productivity activities into high-productivity activities), the types of products exported (not all products have the same consequences for growth and development), and the diversification of the economy.

The exports of countries in the middle-income trap with those of countries that graduated are compared, across eight dimensions that capture different aspects of a country’s capabilities to undergo structural transformation, and test whether they are different. Results indicate that, in general, they are different.

The paper also compares the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines according to the number of products that each exports with revealed comparative advantage. It finds that while the Republic of Korea was able to gain comparative advantage in a significant number of sophisticated products and well connected, Malaysia and the Philippines were able to gain comparative advantage in electronics only.


  • Abstract
  • Executive Summary
  • What Characterizes the Countries in the Middle-income Trap? The Role of Structural Transformation
  • Comparing Countries in the Trap with Those Not in It
  • Not All Products Have the Same Consequences for Growth: The Product Trap
  • The Republic of Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines: Three Different Stories
  • Conclusions
  • Appendixes
  • Selected References

Additional Details

  • Economics
  • Industry and trade
  • Korea, Republic of
  • Malaysia
  • Philippines
  • WPS124753
  • 1655-5252 (Print)

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