Chris Uggen's Blog: world wealth distribution

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

world wealth distribution

you might have heard about the new report on world distribution of household wealth by the world institute for development economics research.

i haven't scrutinized the study's design, methodology, or scope of coverage -- and i know far too little about global stratification research to offer a decent evaluation anyway -- but i'm intrigued by the data.

for purposes of this report, wealth is defined in terms of net worth or the ownership of capital: the value of physical and financial assets less debts. i cannot believe that such quantities are easily or consistently measured across nations. nevertheless, according to the report, average wealth amounted to about ...

• $181,000 per person in japan,
• $171,000 in switzerland,
• $144,000 in the u.s.,
• $131,000 in kuwait,
• $127,000 in the u.k.,
• $81,000 in norway,
• $10,000 in turkey,
• $5,000 in cuba,
• $3,500 in iraq,
• $1,400 in indonesia,
• $1,100 in north korea,
• $1,100 in india,
• $400 in nigeria.

i just picked a few countries, but you get the idea. most u.s. households are quite rich by world standards. aggregating across nations, there are some intriguing summary statistics ...

• assets of $2,200 per adult placed a household in the top half of the world wealth ranking; this group owns about 99 percent of global assets.
• $61,000 in assets is needed to reach the richest 10 percent; this group owns 85 percent of the world's wealth.
• it takes more than $500,000 in assets to reach the richest 1 percent; this group owns 40 percent of global assets.

how is the report being received by the sociologists and economists that we know and trust? if the findings can be considered reliable and valid by social scientific standards, you might be interested in using some of these handy powerpoint slides and other figures in teaching.


At 6:18 AM, Blogger Mike W. said...

I don't know if this is a popular technique to use in teaching stratification to undergrads, but allocating pieces of candy to your classroom in proportion to this kind of aggregated data is a very illustrative way to explain what it means to have the inequality we do (the numbers, by themselves, appall those who are already appalled and aren't meaningful by themselves to people who are fine with inequality).

If you give 40 pieces of chocolate (alright, tootsie rolls for the cheapies) to one student, and one to another, they start to get the picture (though you start to get that Adams' productivity study feeling of guilt from those with the brunt of the candy, save for the partcularly gluttonous).

I don't lay claim to making this up, but I think it's a helluva way to illustrate inequality; after all, there's no better way to discuss massive inequality (such as the frightening figure that mean wealth is just over $2,200) than to do it with lots of sugar and chocolate!

At 9:40 AM, Blogger Beth said...

What a great teaching tool. Thanks for the information Mike and Chris.

At 4:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do a similar thing with a nice round cake (so it's like a pie chart) and some glasses of milk. The Cake is for income, then the milk is for wealth, and I pick five people to represent the quintiles. It's kind of funny to watch the wealthiest person trying to juggle all that cake and a couple of glasses of milk---and faced with the prospect of eating it all (not only more than they want but more than they could eat), it kind of drives home the unfairness of the whole situation.

The poorest person is actually in negative territory, so I inform them that they have to bring some candy for the class at the next meeting.

It you want to start a good controversial conversation, try picking all white people for the upper quintiles, and an African American to be the poorest quintile. It happened by accident the last time I did this, the African American student accused me of doing it on purpose, and it was the best class discussion I've ever had.

At 12:13 AM, Anonymous chris said...

hey, i'm into anything involving cake and candy. i love the way you drive home negative wealth or "third-world debt," dan. it would be even more realistic if they had to empty their pockets to pay off the person representing the upper quintile.

At 10:15 AM, Blogger Mike W. said...

I think I'm partial to Dan's style, partially as a result of the lessons of negative wealth, and partially because it gives me an opportunity to see if one person can drink a gallon of milk in an hour.

I kid, of course.

At 9:11 PM, Blogger Melissa said...

I just found this post and I think it's a really good resource. Just wanted to say thanks!

I'm doing a project for a presentation to some 8th graders at a "Global Issues Seminar" and I'm luck enough to talk about wealth distribution in North America and Western Europe so hopefully I can shake things up a little.

Your stuff will definitely help!


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