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.
“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
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.