The lottery of birth
The lottery of birth

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

The lottery of birth

1.2.3 Global income inequality

The United Nations report, ‘Inequality Matters: Report of the World Social Situation’ (UN, 2013) provides evidence, analysis and comment with regard to the position of global inequality, after the global and financial crisis of 2008. As with all data, remember to read with a critical eye and remember that all empirical evidence is selective and incomplete. As you look at some of the findings of the report, remember what you learned in 1.2.1 Poverty about the Gini co-efficient index that is an indicator of inequality across the whole of society.

One way of showing trends within international inequality is to chart each country’s per capita GDP. In Figure 5, the unweighted line shows international income inequality increasing sharply between 1980 and 2000 but then slowly decreasing.

The graph also shows data obtained by weighting each national GDP per capita by each country’s population, to account for the fact that China’ economic growth, for example, will have affected more people than growth in a smaller country. Again, excluding China, the data shows inequality rising between 1980 and 2000. But since 2000 a decline in international income inequality has been observable. Stronger economic growth in all major developing regions, Asia, Africa and Latin America, have contributed to this trend (UN 2013).

Described image
Figure 5

From a global perspective, there is a reduction in global income inequality overall.

The rapid economic growth in Asia in the last 20 years, in China, India and some other nations, has lifted millions out of absolute poverty. We will look more closely at this remarkable phenomenon in Week 4 and we will hear from some families who have experienced this first hand. But it is also clear that the problem of income and wealth inequality is becoming more acute within individual countries, and that this has a serious impact on well-being, economic growth, social cohesion and social mobility. The lottery of birth that means individuals are affected by inequalities.

It will come as no surprise that we live in an unequal world, particularly in relation to life expectancy, health, income and education but the availability of detailed data from around the world means we can see this in more detail than ever before.

Activity 1.2

The Gapminder website hosts an interactive tool that shows life expectancy and income over time, Gapminder World interactive graph [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . (Note, this tool uses Flash, and will likely not run on your mobile device.)

Use the tool to look at where you live or at a country you are particularly interested in.

Select a graph and write a paragraph about what you found interesting about it. Click on the ‘Share Graph’ button and copy the link if you would like to share it with anyone else.

You can type text here, but this facility requires a free OU account. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

In the next section, you’ll look at health and educational inequalities.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has nearly 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus