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The Cost of Inequality

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April 10, 2019
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May 2, 2019

A review of the book The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson.

In 2009 Pickett and Wilkinson published The Spirit Level, a book that collects studies of the OECD countries as well as studies that compare the 50 US states. They compile hundreds of surveys into one meta analysis of the correlation between inequality and various social problems.

Rather than give you a list of their findings, I’ll let you guess at them with the following quiz on the effects of inequality.

Note: When you press the Finish button at the end of the Quiz, it will show you the answers for each question explained with graphs and/or text from the book The Spirit Level.

#1 In wealthy countries, when inequality increases infant deaths:?Credit: The Local - Germany

#2 In the 50 US states, when inequality increases, life expectancy:?Image credit: Deccan Chronicle

#3 In wealthy countries and in the 50 US states, as inequality increases obesity:?Photo Credit: National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

#4 In wealthy countries and in the 50 US states, when inequality increases, the math and literacy scores of 15 year olds:?Photo credit: MathKids

 

#5 In wealthy countries and in the 50 US states, when inequality increases, teenage pregnancy:

#6 In wealthy countries and in the 50 US states, as inequality increases, homicides:?Photo Credit: 13abc

#7 In wealthy countries, as inequality increases, the number of prisoners?Photo Credit: Bridge Magazine

#8 In wealthy countries and the 50 US states, as inequality increases, levels of trust:?Photo Credit: Yuriy Seleznev for Shutterstock

#9 In wealthy countries and in the 50 US states, as inequality increases, the status of women:?Photo Credit: KPMG

 

#10 For rich people in wealthy countries and in the 50 US states, when inequality increases, their quality of life:?Photo Credit: Black Enterprise

“Having come to the end of what higher material standards of living can offer us, we are the first generation to have to find other ways of improving real quality of life.  The evidence shows that reducing inequality is the best way of improving the quality of the social environment, and so the real quality of life, for all of us.”

The Spirit Level, Chapter 2

 

“What the studies make clear … is that greater equality brings substantial gains even at the top occupational class and among the richest and best-educated of the population, which includes the small minority of the seriously rich.  In short, whether we look at states or countries, the benefits of greater equality seem to be shared across the vast majority  of the population.”

The Spirit Level, Chapter 13

finish

I’m sure you see the pattern in the answers to the quiz, which also forms the main theme from the book:

Almost every social problem gets worse with greater income inequality and improves when there is more equality. This is true not only for the poor but also for the rich, who have longer life spans and better quality of life in countries with less inequality.

So if you wonder where all the anger and alienation comes from in our current times, this book points us in the direction of an answer. As inequality has grown, so have all its associated social ills, leading people to feel more fearful and less trusting.

This leaves us with a daunting challenge. Moving towards greater equality requires trust, and we live at a time where rapidly increasing inequality has broken down trust at almost every level.

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