Learn about global income inequality through an interactive visualization

Further reading

Data is never perfect

Collecting data about the world is a significant challenge. With respect to income data, there are numerous challenges. Countries use different currencies, life necessities cost different amounts (there is even variation within each country), housing costs differ, many governments subsidize some aspects of life for portions of their citizens, inflation erodes precision of measurement, some countries experience war, some people may be living off savings from previous years. There are methodological questions that affect aggregated data too, e.g. should negative income be recorded if a self-employed individual incurs debt?

The data from the world is never uniform - many measurements are performed differently. Sometimes we have self-reported measurements, other times it's official tax data; sometimes we have income data, other times it is data about household spending. And of course there are standard statistical challenges: does the data come from a representative sample of society?

None of this is to say the data we have is not useful, it is just a reminder to be critical when interpreting it. We have to be careful about what we can and can't conclude. Being naive, we may think that a family with $0 income is either starving to death or is going into debt at a quick pace, but they may in fact be subsistence farmers, getting by while mostly avoiding the standard economy. At the same time, it would be incorrect to conclude their lives are just fine: with lack of financial resources, there may be no access to education (locking in future generations in the cycle) or medicine, and a drought can be absolutely devastating: income still matters.

When interpreting data, context matters. In many countries, many people have far worse access to clean drinking water, education, health, and other necessities others in richer countries enjoy. The world is a complex place and it is valuable to explore the complexity through a variety of measurements besides income.

Conclusions about particular individuals based on aggregate data are unwarranted, but broad country-wide patterns are indicators of general trends. A country with high incomes and very little income inequality is an indication that people's individual needs are likely met, and few are left behind. A country which has large fractions of people living with the lowest and the highest incomes compared to the rest of the world is very unequal: it likely has inner tension, frustration, and anger between its citizens.

As you explore the world income data, note that there are countries that are able to help all their citizens reach a good standard of living. Inequailty is present in all countries, but it does not need to lead to neglect of the very worst off. We can have a better world with less absolute poverty. Let's work together in getting there.