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Thanks to our friend Nick Seaver for posting on the Huffington Post one of the figures we created after playing around with some of the available stats on global income inequality. The idea was to get a very rough sense of what global income distribution looks like: Is it a bell curve? Where might an average American fit?
Ideally, we would have wanted income information on every person on the planet and then just line them up and see what it looks like. Of course, no such figures exist. The best we have is average income, plus some distribution data for large countries. So we took every country that was at least 1% of global population and disaggregated average incomes by decile (Iran and Japan by quintile), then added in every other country with their total population at the national average. This is far from perfect, we realize. But this may be less of a problem than it first appears because of the dramatic scale difference among countries: Given the relative enormity of China and India and the other big countries, counting all the middle class or millionaires in Togo (or, for that matter, in the UK) has almost no visual effect. Given those caveats, the picture here is one way to see what the figures look like. You can also view the graph (pdf) with the axes flipped in a normal histogram, plus a fuller explanation on what we did with the data. For a more thorough discussion of some of these issues, we recommend the work of economist Branko Milanovic (see, e.g., his figure on p 17 of this paper [pdf]) and the 2005 WIDER Lecture by CGD president Nancy Birdsall, The World is not Flat: Inequality and Injustice in our Global Economy (.pdf).
CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.