Striking Features On Inter-county Inequalities In Kenya

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Inequalities among counties in all the variables are extreme. In many cases, Kenyans living in different counties have completely different lifestyles and access to services


  • Nairobi County has the highest proportion of households (62.4 percent) with 3 or less members compared to Mandera County which has the highest proportion of households (79 percent) with 7 or more members. Overall, higher dependency ratios are observed in the northern counties compared to Nairobi and the central counties of Kenya. 


  • There is about 4 times the share of poor people in Turkana County (87.5 percent) as there is in Nairobi (21.8 percent).

  • The poverty gap measures the intensity of poverty. It shows how far below the poverty line the poor are and therefore how much money is needed to eliminate poverty. The poverty gap between the county with the highest gap (Tana River at 46.1 percent) and the county with the lowest gap (Nairobi at 4.1 percent) is 11 times.


Income/expenditure inequalities

  • The North has quite low income inequality, with Turkana (0.283), Mandera (0.332) and Wajir (0.321) among the five counties with lowest income inequality as measured by the gini coefficient. By contrast, Coast has the top three counties with the highest income inequality i.e. Tana River (0.617), Kilifi (0.597) and Kwale (0.565). Income inequality is therefore highest at the Coast and poverty is highest in the North.

  • The poorest county (Turkana with a poverty level of 87.5%) is also the most equal county in Kenya (with a gini coefficient of 0.283).

  • The consumption expenditure share of the fifth quintile (with the highest expenditures of KSh7,200 and above) in Kenya, is 3.6 times more than that of the first quintile (with expenditure shares below KSh 1,440).

  • The variations in consumption expenditure are more pronounced in urban areas where expenditure shares in the fifth quintile are 121 times more than the expenditure shares of the first quintile. Nairobi and Mombasa counties display significant differences with the 5th quintile spending more than the first quintile by 691 times and 75 times respectively, thus illustrating a very skewed distribution in expenditures compared to the other eight top ranked counties.

  • In eight of the bottom 10 counties at least 50 percent of their population is in the bottom first quintile with expenditures below KSh 1,440 compared to only 0.6 percent of the population in Nairobi County.

  • There are large income differentials between urban and rural areas. 44.6 percent of the total rural population compared to only 2.6 percent of the urban population is in the first quintile and thus spends Ksh 1,440 and below. This is in comparison to 34.1 percent of the urban population and 1.5 percent of the rural population which is in the fifth decile and spends Ksh 7,200 and above. 

Access to education

  • The share of residents with secondary education or higher in Nairobi (50.8 percent) is 15.4 times more than that of Turkana County (3.3 percent) and 2.2 times more than that of an average Kenyan. Conversely, those living in Turkana County are seven times less likely to have any secondary education compared to an average Kenyan.

  • The proportion of individuals with secondary education in male headed households is higher than that for female headed households across all counties.

  • Interestingly, the counties with the highest share of primary education only are concentrated in the western part of the country, specifically in Migori, Siaya, Homa Bay, Vihiga and Busia.

  • Turkana County has the highest proportion of the population with no education (82.1 percent). This is seven times less than the lowest ranked county, Nairobi. 

Employment and level of education

  • When it comes to the structure of the work force, differences between genders and urban/rural areas are striking. In rural areas, female headed households (FHH) are more likely to be engaged in wage employment (work for pay) than male headed households (MHH) at 31.5 and 16.8 percent respectively. In urban areas, by contrast, MHH are more likely to be in wage employment than FHH (40.2 and 12.8 percent respectively).

  • For individuals with secondary education, employment for pay in urban areas (43.2 percent) is twice the employment for pay in rural areas (21.3 percent)

  • Overall, individuals living in urban areas who have no education are twice as likely to be without work as their rural counterparts. People with no education in Kenya are 1.7 times more likely to have no work than people with secondary education and above.

  • One measure of inequality in opportunity across counties is the share of those with secondary education or higher that are without work. This figure is highest in the northern and coastal counties (i.e. in Wajir, Garissa, Turkana, Mandera, Isiolo, Samburu, Mombasa, Marsabit, Tana River), but it is also high in Nairobi (10.1 percent).

Access to improved sources of water

  • Individuals in urban areas have one and half times more access to improved water sources than their rural counterparts. In Nairobi, Mombasa and Kiambu, 7 in 10 households or more have access to improved water sources compared to only 2 in 10 households in Bomet, Baringo and Narok.

  • Disparities are bigger at the constituency level where 9 out of every 10 households or more have access to improved water sources in Embakasi North (the best ranked constituency) compared to only 4 in every 100 households in Mandera West constituency (the worst ranked constituency), a difference of 86 percentage points. 

Access to improved sanitation

  • People living in urban areas have two times more access to improved sanitation than their rural counterparts. The share of those in Nairobi County (87.9 percent) with access to improved sanitation is 15 times greater than those in Wajir County (6.7 percent).

  • At constituency level the difference in share of those with access to improved sanitation in Kangema (thebest ranked constituency with access levels of 98.5 percent) and Loima (the worst ranked constituency with access levels of 1.9 percent) is 52 times. 

Access to improved housing

  • The use of stone walls is six times more common in urban areas than in rural areas. The use of cement flooring is 3 times more common in urban than in rural areas while the use of earth floors is 3 times more common in rural than in urban areas

  • Most Kenyans (74 percent) live in homes with corrugated iron roofs, both in urban and rural areas. However, there are still huge differences across counties, with 95 percent of households in Nyandarua using corrugated iron roofs, while only 10 percent in Wajir do the same. These differences reflect both access to resources and lifestyle differences stemming from pastoralist versus more sedentary living. 

Access to improved sources of lighting

  • Only 23 percent of Kenyans use electricity for lighting. Urban areas (51 percent) have 10 times more electricity coverage than rural areas (5 percent). Nairobi County (72 percent) has 36 times more coverage than Turkana and Tana River counties (each has 2 percent coverage). 

Access to improved sources of cooking fuel

  • When it comes to cooking fuel, 93 percent of Kenyans use either “transition” fuels like charcoal (17 percent) and paraffin (12 percent), or they use “primitive” fuels like firewood (64 percent). Only about 7 percent of Kenyans use “high” energy fuels like electricity, LPG or bio-fuels. More than 90 percent of households in Wajir (95 percent), Mandera (93 percent), Bomet (92 percent), Marsabit (92 percent), West Pokot (91 percent), Vihiga (91 percent), Nyamira (91 percent) and Elgeyo-Marakwet (90 percent) use primitive fuels (i.e. firewood for cooking).