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The Spirit Level: Why Equality Is Better for Everyone

4.1 of 5 stars 4.10  ·  rating details  ·  2,893 ratings  ·  340 reviews
It is a well-established fact that in rich societies the poor have shorter lives and suffer more from almost every social problem. The Spirit Level, based on thirty years of research, takes this truth a step further. One common factor links the healthiest and happiest societies: the degree of equality among their members. Further, more unequal societies are bad for everyon ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published 2010 by Penguin (first published 2009)
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There was a moment in Freakonomics where the authors say that the reason violent crime has dropped in America is that there are less people being born now into abject poverty and this is mostly due to access to abortion. When I first read this I thought it was a very interesting correlation. I was even prepared to accept it as probably an accurate description, a kind of ‘fact of life’. But let’s say the same thing in a somewhat less intellectually appealing style. “Bennett (former U.S. Secretary ...more
One study concluded that ‘income inequality exerts a comparable effect across all population subgroups’, whether people are classified by education, race or income – so much so that the authors suggested that inequality acted like a pollutant spread throughout society. Chapter 13

’Tis very certain that each man carries in his eye the exact indication of his rank in the immense scale of men, and we are always learning to read it. Emerson (Chapter 3)

The Spirit Level is a book whose importance will

I have now read a detailed blog listing many arguments against this book, and whilst I still think The Spirit Level is a provocative and interesting read, I think it is best read in conjunction with the blog...


(or see my comment, message 25 below, for a short description of the blog).


This book is about statistics, so it is going to be very hard for me to convey the excitement of reading it. It IS exciting though, and figure by fig
A pub quiz that asks you to name the world’s richest country seems too easy. The obvious answer – ‘the USA’ – is also the right one. It has an average income of more than $40,000 per head. But does this mean that the American dream has come true? What about if the question asked for the country with the greatest life expectancy? Or highest literacy rate? Or lowest number of infant deaths? Or lowest levels of mental illness? ‘The USA’ is not the right answer to any of these questions. But how can ...more
I'm not wild about the title. I adore the subtitle.

Because "equality" covers it all. Unlike communism, socialism, feminism, civil rights, or human rights, "equality" demands the same result for everyone, while appealing to our modern, individualist obsessions with happiness and egoism. I don't know how many cynics will be converted by this book, but I'm convinced it's our best bet.
Paul Bryant
Nov 14, 2011 Paul Bryant marked it as assorted-rants-about-stuff  ·  review of another edition
I can't read this at the moment because

a) I'm working on my own book called

BEING NICE IS GOOD : Why It Took Me 450 Closely Reasoned Pages to Say Something Bleeding Obvious - And What You Can Do To Stop Me Doing It Again


b) there will be a whole lot of Sweden in this book, which as you all know will cause a very bad reaction
I would have liked the book more if the data sets presented were complete. In numerous graphs the critera is "more equal vs less equal" or "better vs worse" etc. This is not what I would consider rigorous presentation of the data. Additionally, when a graph did have a numerical scale it would not encompass the total bounds of possible values. For example instead of a graph being on a scale from 0% to 100%, it would instead be something like 20 to 60%, showing a much more drastic relationship tha ...more
This book has two big ideas in one, both of which the authors provide data-driven support for:

1) Improving life in countries where national income per person is greater than $10 - $20K will not come from an increase in income. Which leads to this page 11 excerpt: "We are the first generation to have to find new answers to the question of how we can make further improvements to the real quality of human life. What should we turn to if not economic growth?"

2) The book's answer to its own question
Dave Golombek
I managed to somehow agree with most of what the book said, while being constantly infuriated by how they presented it. The book gets 3 stars, the ideas in it get 5 stars.

First, the bad. The book is filled with graphs on which one or BOTH axes are labeled low to high, with no numbers. They don't get around to addressing the differences between correlation and causality until two-thirds of the way through the book. They don't include much in the way of policy suggestions or concrete ways to addr
Cassandra Kay Silva
Equality is one of those things that is hard to define. This book takes a look at equality from a mostly financial perspective. It also explores the level of equality in opportunities, education and a few other levels.

First of all this book is fabulous. If you are a massive factoid type who loves seeing another way to look at adjoining facts this will be pure pleasure for you. (Please excuse the ridiculousness of some of the graphs that have been dumbed down however).

My only one wish for this
First off I am going to admit that I did not finish this book. This is exceptionally rare for me, especially with non-fiction. However, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett have produced a work of such little serious worth that I have been compelled to cease wading through its treacle-like flow for fear of the anger it brings on causing a heart attack.

Secondly, let me state plainly that I firmly believe that increased equality is advantageous to society in many, many ways. I think that an increase
Simon Wood

Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett have put the question of inequality under the spotlight in their fine study, "The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone". The focus of their efforts is on the richer nations, essentially those that are in the OECD. They make a strong case for the correlation between the amount of inequality in a country, and the incidence of a number of social problems ranging from teenage pregnancies and drug use, to life expectancy, dep
Yousef Chavehpour
این کتاب به موضوع بسیار مهمی در ادبیات بین رشته ای(اقتصاد پزشکی،جمعیت شناسی، بهداشت، پزشکی، سیاست و . . .) پرداخته و نگاه جالبی داره . حول اصلی تمام تحلیلها بر محور نابرابری است . می آید توان تبین کنندگی نابرابری را(نه متغییرهای اقتصادی ای مانند درامد سرانه که تحلیل ها بیشتر حول آنهاست)بر روی مسائلی مانند امید به زندگی،گسترش سو مصرف مواد،چاقی،بیماریهای روان و یک سری بیماریهای دیگه،رفتارهای نا به هنجار و جرایم،افت تحصیلی،خشونت،محرومیتها،نا شادیها،ساعات کار طولانی،حجم زندانیها و ... را نشان می دهد ...more
I am five years behind the curve in reading this book. I’ve put it off because I don’t need convincing of its thesis; I already thought that more unequal societies were worse. Still, it’s well known and much-cited, so I’ve finally got round to it. Needless to say, I found its arguments convincing and was impressed with the range of evidence marshalled. As always with such books, accessibility has resulted some slight sacrifice in academic rigour - I would have liked to see some p-values for the ...more
Thomas Edmund
Despite sounding like a B-grade supernatural fantasy thriller, The Spirit Level is a non-fiction work that aggregates scientific evidence on societal equality. In a nutshell the point is: More equal societies do better, especially on outcomes that show hierarchical effects. (for example education level is predicted by income status, and thus overall educational achievement is predicted by that countries equality.

The book doesn’t begin as a total nightmare for those of right-wing persuasion howe
I wanted to be able to give this book 5 stars simply because I believe that it is morally right for societies to have a small gap between rich and poor (and morally reprehensible that some of the most advanced nations, like the USA, have huge gaps between the haves and the have nots). All people have the right to the basic necessities of life -- in our modern societies that includes things like clean water to drink, fresh air to breathe, a high likelihood of survival into late adulthood, access ...more
Conor Mcvarnock
Excellent work, the conclusions are largely intuitive and certainly nothing that should be of any sort of surprise to most of us on the socialist left (except maybe all the stuff about Japan being up there with the Scandanavian Countries). The basic point made by the book is that after a certain point, how rich or developed a country is doesn't matter after a certain point, its the level of inequality that is the decisive factor on a range of issues, levels of obesity, mental illness, heart dise ...more
Just finished reading The Spirit Level and greatly appreciated the extensive endnotes and clarity with which this book was written. The authors methodically take the reader through their thinking chapter by chapter and support their argument that greater equality in society would lead to a better human experience for everyone - even the wealthy. Contrary to some beliefs, this book does not advocate the control of the government over businesses (authors said that was distinctly NOT the answer), r ...more
Kenneth A. Mugi
NOTE: For sake of brevity, I will refer to the book as 'The Spirit Level' throughout the review.


The Spirit Level is an engaging and easy to read non-fiction book that explores the correlation between inequality and multiple social ills plaguing today's modern societies. Kate and Richard use simple to read graphs and lead the reader through a variety of potential analysis before explaining why they have interpreted the data their way. They also provide several potential solutions to the in
Leon M
I reread the book during the last days and this is what I've come up with as a review. If you want it in one line, take the review of The Economist, a notoriously right-wing newspaper, saying that "The evidence is hard to dispute". From The Economist, this means a lot!

In „The Spirit Level“, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett discuss the new evidence that strongly points at inequality as determining factor for most of the social and health problems present in contemporary societies.

Before this
I read this book because John thought I would find it interesting. It was very painful to read for me, because it is one of those books that tries to make an argument but begins by making assumptions and statements that I either don't understand or don't agree with. The book starts by saying "We believe A, B, C, and D" and then building if-then statements to get to their conclusion, Z (which they helpfully provide as a subtitle). Unfortunately, axioms B and C are sketchy and D is just plain wron ...more
An extraordinary compilation of data to show how catastrophically damaging to society, inequality is. And it effects every level. Life expectancy even for rich people is lower in less equal societies. And by more equal societies we are talking about perfectly economically viable, wealthy countries like Japan and Scandinavia. Of course none of this evidence will actually be looked at by conservative proponents of extreme inequality of the market has spoken sort. What is interesting about Japan is ...more
Joy Jungle
The only negative thing I can say about this book is that they use evo psyche in two chapters to prove a point. I think this makes their work loose a bit of credibility as evo psyche is mainly a purely speculative field. It was a shame they had to rely heavily on it in the teenage pregnancies chapter; it was as if they couldn't look past the gender of many of the teenagers and place it in a wider context. There was also some bad neuroscience near the end. This promoted logic of, "If this part of ...more
The Spirit Level es un libro sumamente entretenido que busca analizar la relación que existe entre la desigualdad económica( ingresos y riqueza)con problemas sociales que van desde la salud mental, la obesidad y hasta la participación femenina y la criminalidad.

La relación entre distintos aspectos psicológicos como ansiedad, baja autoestima, depresión es sumamente interesante pues da luz a los mecanismos sociales por los cuales se reproducen problemas a nivel individual, a su vez también result
Billie Pritchett
Richard G. Wilkinson in The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better takes data from the United Nation's World Health Organization and shows the ways in which countries that have higher levels of income inequality fare worse, overall, as a nation, in terms of various measures of psychological and social well-being. He also essentially demonstrates that of the advanced industrialized countries only two are faring well in terms of dealing with the income inequality problem, a ...more
Very refreshing to read someone making the case for a more equal society and challenging the unexamined norms of economic disparity.

There are a few quibbles about some of the statistics, but this is something of a side issue. The evidence for the benefits of a more equal society is overwhelming. Most of the book is taken up with analysis of statistical data on various issues such as violence, obesity, educational outcomes, social mobility imprisonment etc. The last third is taken up with more o
Really interesting and accessible but with this title, the authors might just be preaching to the converted. The focus is on income inequality and a huge number of empirical studies are drawn upon throughout to make the point that more equal societies have better outcomes across a range of health and social measures, even for those at the top and middle (though proportionally less, the higher you get). At times it gets a little bit repetitive but the graphs are fascinating. I would been interest ...more
Mikko Karvonen
Aug 16, 2009 Mikko Karvonen rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone remotely interested in creating a better world
In Spirit Level the authors sum up their life-long (up to thirty years) research on income unequality and the effects it has on the societies and well-being of people. They take on a number of social problems evident and rising in the developed world, from problems with physical and mental health, to the amount of violence and teen pregnancies, and using mainly statistical analysis point out their origin in the income unequality of the society and the lack of trust between people it generates.

This is an interesting attempt to support something like evidence based political economy. As a diagnosis of individuals and societies it is striking and impressive combining both long-term individual data from the Whitehall studies of British civil servants to country level outcome comes using World Health Organisation data.

As political polemic of course it has sunk with barely a ripple. The brief controversy showed that the problem with any evidence based approach is that on the whole we prefe
Greg Curtis
This is a fascinating book that turns the world of economics upsidedown, based on the insights of epidemiology. This is not an economics book. It is a book about a disease, inequality, and its effects on society. In the same way that epidemiologists can use their statistical analyses to investigate the course of a disease and find outcomes and sources, they can apply them to the general human condition, and link it back to the source, inequality. As an epidemiologist myself I found this fascinat ...more
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Richard G. Wilkinson (Richard Gerald Wilkinson; born 1943) is a British researcher in social inequalities in health and the social determinants of health. He is Professor Emeritus of social epidemiology at the University of Nottingham, having retired in 2008. He is also Honorary Professor at University College London.

He is best known for his 2009 book (with Kate Pickett) The Spirit Level, in which
More about Richard G. Wilkinson...

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“New developments in neurology provide biological explanations for how our learning is affected by our feelings.167 We learn best in stimulating environments when we feel sure we can succeed.” 0 likes
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