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The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  4,926 ratings  ·  472 reviews

Why do we mistrust people more in the UK than in Japan? Why do Americans have higher rates of teenage pregnancy than the French? What makes the Swedish thinner than the Greeks? The answer: inequality.

This groundbreaking book, based on years of research, provides hard evidence to show:

- How almost everything - from life expectancy to depression levels, violence to illiteracy - is affecte


Kindle Edition, 400 pages
Published November 4th 2010 by Penguin (first published 2009)
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Dec 11, 2010 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)

for books which come to similar conclusions see/>for/>’Tis
Dec 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Nor should we allow ourselves to believe that the rich are scarce and precious members of a superior race of more intelligent beings on whom the rest of us are dependent. That is merely the illusion that wealth and power create."

This refreshingly well-written book, based on scientific research, makes the case for a more equal world to benefit all social strata in our modern, developed democracies. Looking at the social issues that modern societies struggle with, the authors show in
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 wh
Mar 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 b
Jun 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics, politics
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 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 marked it as probably-never  ·  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
Dec 21, 2009 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
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
Sep 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Turns out there’s really good data that inequality hurts everyone. Even the winners.
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
Sep 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Simon Wood
Jul 20, 2013 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 exp
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
Dave Golombek
Jul 07, 2011 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
Sep 25, 2009 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
Mar 10, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The Piketty of the noughties - i.e. it's a bestselling forest of empirical detail, with lots of methodological problems and ideological overinterpretation. I was very impressed, as an undergrad with the same axe to grind as the authors.

How does it hold up after ten years? Well, we've learned what a forest (or garden) of empirical detail sadly often means: data dredging, cherry-picking, p-hacking and so on.

Bill Leach
Jun 28, 2013 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 r
Nov 30, 2012 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
Thomas Edmund
Apr 15, 2010 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
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 findin
Aug 01, 2013 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 c
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 soci
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 poten
Jan 21, 2011 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
Apr 05, 2010 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 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
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
Niel Bowerman
Jan 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Does a nice job of illustrating correlation between inequality and various social ills, but the provides insufficient evidence for the assertion that these relationships are causal in my opinion. In addition to this book I would suggest reading some of the articles arguing against the conclusions in this book for a more rounded picture. Nonetheless I thought that its broad point on correlation was both interesting and helpful.
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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 Lev
“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
“Scheff called shame the social emotion because pride and shame provide the social evaluative feedback as we experience ourselves as if through others’ eyes.” 0 likes
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