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Lottery of birth
Lottery of birth

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4.1 Global income inequality

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

View the Gapminder World interactive graph [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] to see how life expectancy and income levels have changed for countries across the world from the start of the 19th century. Press the play button in the bottom left hand corner to follow the timeline.

Using graphic data like this you can clearly see the overall picture. You can see how over the most recent centuries the progress has at first been slow and then rapid, towards more people being able to live longer lives with fewer living their lives in poverty.

In the last 20 years, the rapid economic growth in Asia, in particular in China and India, has lifted millions out of absolute poverty. You will look more closely at this remarkable phenomenon later in the course and hear from some families who have experienced this first-hand.

Now take a look at ‘Dollar Street’ from the same website. This gives an illuminating glimpse into the lives of many families in different parts of the world by showing their average monthly income.

The website shows how the differences in what people own, and what people can inherit and earn, are very real. The families whose lives you glimpse at are certainly affected by the global disparities you have begun to look at in this course. However, as you looked at the different families you may have also thought about the resilience that is often within families, notwithstanding its wealth or income level, and that many of them would still provide for, protect and nurture their children.

It is also clear that the problem of income and wealth inequality remains acute within individual countries, and that this has a serious impact on well-being, economic growth, social cohesion and social mobility.

Activity 2

Follow the steps below to see how life expectancy and income have changed over time across the globe. You will be using Gapminder’s interactive graph that illustrates both global progress towards longer lives and the reduction of poverty.

  1. Click on the link: Gapminder World interactive graph.
  2. Select a country. This could be where you live or another country that you are interested in.
  3. Press play to see how the country’s life expectancy and income has changed from the start of the 19th century.

(Note, this tool uses Flash, and will likely not run on your mobile device.)

Using mass visual data that is readily available is a new, relatively straightforward way to learn about demographic changes and social and economic developments.

You may wish to become more familiar with other data interactives such as this, which you can find on the Gapminder website. Use the buttons labelled Income, Maps, Trends, Ranks or Ages and focus on something you found particularly interesting or revealing. Then write a short paragraph about why you selected it and what you learnt from it. Click on the ‘Share Graph’ button and copy the link if you would like to keep it or share it with anyone else.

To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

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