Skip to content
Skip to main content

About this free course

Become an OU student

Download this course

Share this free course

Lottery of birth
Lottery of birth

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

7.2 Thinking point: the spirit level hypothesis

The ‘spirit level hypothesis’ has been widely read and debated. For example, the UN report ‘Inequality Matters: Report on the World Social Situation 2013’, that you heard about earlier, acknowledges the validity of the ‘spirit level hypothesis’.

Described image
Figure 14

In this report , the view of American economist Joseph Stiglitz was included:

There is growing evidence and recognition of the powerful and corrosive effects of inequality on economic growth, poverty reduction, social and economic stability and socially-sustainable development … the many adverse consequences of inequality affect the well-being not only of those at the bottom of the income distribution, but also those at the top. Specifically, inequality leads to a less stable, less efficient economic system that stifles economic growth and the participation of all members of society in the labour market.

(Stiglitz, 2012)

Activity 5

There are arguments for and against the ‘spirit level hypothesis’. Find some coverage of the debate and summarise it, with a link to your source.

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).


So, for example, Christopher Snowdon, at the Institute of Economic Affairs has disputed the statistics, alleging selection bias and has written ‘The Spirit Level Delusion’ – you can see it here.

The Spirit Level revisited [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]