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The Spirit Level: Why Equality Is Better for Everyone

4.11  ·  Rating Details ·  3,803 Ratings  ·  407 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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Dec 11, 2010 Trevor rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Mar 06, 2014 Caroline rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics

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
Jun 16, 2010 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics, economics
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
Mar 06, 2017 Sebastien rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very solid read. Lots of great points and interesting analysis. Arguments seem well buttressed by research (although I haven't vetted any of the research so I have no idea how solid research may be or what holes there might be). That said the overall argument is strong to me, and the critiques and analysis hit a lot of notes in my political and economic philosophy.

Most interesting aspect that sticks in my mind, the concept of status and status-seeking. Beyond a certain point of consumerism, get
Paul Bryant
Aug 28, 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
Sep 03, 2011 E rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics-history
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.
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
Dec 21, 2009 Jeff rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Simon Wood
Jul 20, 2013 Simon Wood rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

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
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
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
Dave Golombek
Jul 07, 2011 Dave Golombek rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 26, 2017 Sara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sociology, sociol
This book is very informative and it has a fair scientific approach. But, in 2017, the ideas that this book present seem quite nonsense, archaic and utopian and they need a thorough revision.
Don't get me wrong though, I approve the notions the book is insisting on them. However, I do believe that the ignorant repulsion against what this book is talking about has led us to be where we are now.

People in lower middle classes have internalized the abhorrence against equality, simply because they thi
Ahmad Sharabiani
The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, Richard G. Wilkinson, Kate Pickett
عنوان: جامعه شناسی، سلامت، ثروت و عدالت؛ اثر: ریچارد ویلکینسون؛ کیت پیکت؛ مترجم: شیریم احمدنیا؛ ابوالقاسم پوررضا؛ تهران، سازمان مطالعه و تدوین کتب علوم انسانی دانشگاهها (سمت) 1393؛ در 327 ص، نمودار، نمایه، کتابنامه، شابک: 9786000200909؛ موضوع: برابری، درآمد، توزیع، تحرک اجتماعی، کیفیت زندگی؛ و موضوعات اجتماعی
Bill Leach
Jun 28, 2013 Bill Leach rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: informative
Part 1 - Material Success, Social Failure

1. The end of an Era
- mainstream politics has moved from considerations of the quality of society
- most citizens are concentrating on improving their own position within society

2. Poverty or Inequality
- ratio between richest 20% and poorest 20% varies from around 4 in Japan and Scandanavia to 7 for the UK and 8 for the US - Canada is almost 6
- health and social problems are closely related to inequality in rich countries
- "where income differences are big
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
Thomas Edmund
Apr 15, 2010 Thomas Edmund rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 01, 2013 Zanna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Compelling presentation of evidence that more equal societies have better health and social outcomes, such as trust, life expectancy, violence and child well-being. These benefits affect all income levels, not only the poorest, and are unrelated to GDP. The authors point out that increasing wealth has not benefited people beyond the level where basic needs are met, but that increasing equality brings significant benefits. They also link their case to the sustainability imperative.

I can't rate th
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
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
Nov 30, 2012 Anna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 21, 2011 Linda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 25, 2009 Jason rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 05, 2010 Kara rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 24, 2013 Conor Mcvarnock rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
The title of this book is pretty self-explanatory, as two academics present their case for why equality benefits the whole of society. Their chapters look at a range of common subjects (mental health, obesity and health issues, drug abuse, education, unemployment, prisons, crime, teenage pregnancies etc) and have found that inequality is one of the key (if not the main) determining factors as to why these problems are so prevalent in our modern societies.

The evidence for their findings are outli
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
Jon Norimann
Nov 17, 2016 Jon Norimann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics
This is a good book about the effects of wage differences on GDP and quality of life. For those such issues are of interest it is well worth a read.
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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.” 1 likes
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