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The Broken Ladder: How Inequality Affects the Way We Think, Live, and Die

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  1,928 ratings  ·  249 reviews
A timely examination by a leading scientist of the physical, psychological, and moral effects of inequality.

The levels of inequality in the world today are on a scale that have not been seen in our lifetimes, yet the disparity between rich and poor has ramifications that extend far beyond mere financial means. In The Broken Ladder psychologist Keith Payne examines how ine
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published May 2nd 2017 by Viking
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 ·  1,928 ratings  ·  249 reviews

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Sep 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The Broken Ladder: How Inequality Affects the Way We Think, Live, and Die by Keith Payne

“The Broken Ladder” is an excellent book that examines what inequality does to us as people. Psychologist Keith Payne examines how inequality changes how we experience the world and makes use of the latest insights in psychology, neuroscience and behavioral science to illustrate such changes. This insightful 252-page book includes the following nine chapters: 1. Lunch Lady Economics: Why Feeling Poor Hurts Li
Jul 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
This is one of the most fascinating books I have read in a long time. The author, a psychology prof at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, at a young age began to be interested in the ways in which inequality in a society affects its inhabitants. Growing up in rural Kentucky, when he was in fourth grade he became aware that he received free school lunches and hence was "poor". Until that point, he felt himself to be like his classmates; afterwards, he became very self-conscious and fel ...more
Jan 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The Broken Ladder has convinced me that inequality is the most serious threat to civil society. Author Keith Payne describes the incredible scope of the issue, from feelings of injustice, self-destructive decision making, rising polarization, and inflations of status, with engaging prose, relevant psychology studies, and interesting personal stories. The book is compact, informative, and easily accessible.

The tensions that exist between the haves and have-nots in society have driven conflicts f
Joe Tullio
Nov 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book was a quick read. It posits that inequality is at the root of many issues present in the societies of those countries that most exhibit it. Its basic thesis is compelling; the idea is that absolute wealth is not the key indicator. Rather, it is how people feel relative to one another that fosters feelings of inequality and unhealthy social comparisons.

It begins by demonstrating how people are naturally prone to compare themselves to one another. Through reporting on a variety of scient
Tim Shannon
Jan 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Just awesome.
Felipe Gonçalves Marques
Jun 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a very interesting book. It tackles the effect of inequality and tries to explain how it affects people behavior. It is really well-written and as subject, brings very interesting reflections that kinds of affect how we reason about several aspects of life such as public policies, moral justification of inequality (i.e. "that person is poor, because he is lazy") and social mobility.

The main take-aways are:

- Our behavior is not affected by how wealth/poor we are, but by how wealth/poor we
Wilde Sky
Jun 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book discusses inequality and the effects that it has on individuals and society as a whole.

Some of the facts were thought provoking (such as lack of opportunity leading to risky behaviour), but the personal opinions could have been left out and some of the graphics were almost illegible.

Overall rating 3.5
anathema grace
Nov 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This book was engaging and accessible, though it addresses subjects that can often be dense or dull. Speaking as someone with ADHD, this made it a lot easier to read and digest, as did the personal anecdotes, graphs and images that aided in the reader's understanding of the subject. I would definitely recommend this book!
Mar 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book was an excellent consolidation of all the ways in which inequality (not just poverty) affects culture, decision-making, health, religious inclination, racism, and just general likelihood of being an asshole. Inequality makes us all worse off--not just those at the bottom. This book belongs on the shelf of every policymaker, teacher, and anyone interested in politics and culture. (along with Scarcity, which I kept thinking about while I was reading it). I get to be on a panel with Dr. P ...more
Sep 06, 2019 rated it it was ok
First, this doesn't work as an audio book with all the references to charts and graphs that you obviously cannot see. You have to imagine scales, shades, etc. Nonsense.

Second, while I liked the premise and was interested in the general topic of inequality, I found the execution rather slow and repetitive. This is a dump of a summary of psychological studies. All of them interesting, but after a while they end up being tedious and boring.
This is worth the read as a quick, accessible primer on inequality. Payne provides an overview of many fascinating studies about how inequality affects individuals and society, showing that high levels of inequality are related to high levels of polarization, racial prejudice, unhappiness, and more. Extreme economic inequality is a common denominator for so many public policy issues, including education, health, crime, and housing.

There were even some fascinating studies that show that liberals
Tõnu Vahtra
Jun 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Interesting take on inequality and the challenges it brings to human society. It's not about how much you have but how it compares to other people around you, relative comparison is everything. I do agree with the statement that more equal societies are free from many issues that foster in high inequality but on the other end I would point out as a disadvantage that there is less drive for progress created from within. Multiple cognitive fallacies are explained when talking about inequality. The ...more
Dec 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of my best reads in 2018! It is fascinating to see how our view on status as absolute or relative can impact our psychology in different ways. When we think of the divide in our society, we tend to focus on absolute terms such as rich/poor. But it is actually the degree of inequality between the groups "that affects the way we think, live and die". Being interested in the topics of socioeconomics and psychology, this was a great read for me. It is one of those books that can change the way y ...more
Katie Goldey
Jan 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Overall interesting book. I have some differences in opinion with some of the interpretation of the research. Also, the language he uses to describe single motherhood is problematic (as though it’s a given that single motherhood is bad for kids, with the implicit assumption that a cisgender hetero parentage is best SMH).

However, THAT SAID - there are some really interesting and worth while points and ideas in here with a different perspective that I think definitely make it worth reading and co
Hannah Darr
Jan 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"All of us want to live in a world that is stable and predictable, where someone is in control, and where chaos can be tamed. All of us want to live in a world of justice, where good things happen to good people and bad people are punished for their crimes. Our minds are working hard at every moment tidying up the world, but inequality plods through the door with muddy shoes, bringing disorder in its wake."
May 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Should probably be necessary reading. This book explained so much and covered income, race, religion and more. Learned a lot from all the studies discussed. Here is one of my key takeaways:

‘Where people place themselves on the status ladder is a better predictor of health than their actual income or education.’
Chelsea Sue
Jun 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A quick and enlightening read about how inequality (not necessarily poverty) affects our choices and behavior. In states with low income, but also low inequality, those states fall lower on incidences if societal ills. Even a doctor who makes six figures can feel lower on the social status if she/he lives in an high inequality area. Well worth the read!
Lisa Lewton
Feb 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Why is the country so divisive at this point in time? Read and find out. Insightful evidence about what it means to be part of a society of such wealth disparity, implicit bias, and false assumptions about each other. No one reading this book should be left unscathed by its research. This would be a good book discussion for people wanting to recognize what might be keeping America polarized.
Samantha Zee
Mar 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Reads super fast for a nonfiction. Payne backs up a lot of his stats with facts from various studies and has a bunch of pictures/graphs (some of which are more helpful than others, but all pretty cool to look at). Covers a variety of topics and reasons for inequality and really makes you think. Some of his real life examples were fascinating!
Hans Peter
Jan 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A very interesting book on the causes and consequences of inequality. Now I better understand why my country (Denmark) is #3 on the Top 10 Happiest Countries in the World 2019 and why the USA isn't on the list. The book taught me something that may even affect where I cast my vote at the coming election. I'll write a full review on my blog.

Source for the top 10:
Jul 19, 2020 rated it liked it
This was good, I just don't think I was in the head space to read such a research based book.
Jul 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library, non-fic, may-2017, m
Fascinating subject of how, not only, actual social and economic inequality but even how an individuals perception of inequality effects them. Not surprisingly the greater the inequality (perceived or actual) the greater the effect on an individuals quality of life, how we live our lives and the choices we make even our mortality. "We perceive our own wealth by comparison to the context, because we perceive everything relative to the context." Just enough data and statistics to illustrate withou ...more
Jan 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was easily one of the best books of the last 12 months. Hands down. I have certainly points away with me to deal with my own struggles in constant comparisons. In many ways, coming at the time it has, this book has been a true eye-opener for me.
Nov 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Smart book

A deeper look at inequality and how it effects our minds not just our bank accounts. Some interesting experiments that give us some tips for surviving and feeling better in an extremely unequal world.
Miebara Jato
Nov 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
When we talk about income inequality or poverty, we tend to look at its effect at the macro level. It's negative impacts on the society at large, and the macroeconomy. In looking at income inequality or poverty with those prisms, we seem to lost sight its impact on the psychological, social, and other relational effects on the individual or groups. This book tells how income inequality and poverty affects the way a person thinks, his health, etc. The book also debunks some widely held belief abo ...more
Feb 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I stumbled upon this book at the discounted section of a book store at a very low price, and now that I finished reading it I can say that I've found a hidden gem.

The timing was perfect-- the topic of inequality has recently come into my radar and then this book came. It sheds light on how inequality affects different aspects of one's life, how it's worsened by the human nature of always comparing things with others, and how it affects our behavior and thinking. It quotes abundant research to p
Chiara Rasi
Jul 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book puts into words and analyzes in a scientific way concepts that you already know to be true by instinct. It's human nature in its rudimentary form. Better to get to know ourselves not to accept or justify some bad behaviors we have, but to improve, so in the end we could be happy with what we already have. A step ahead would be starting to address inequality in society, but this would mean to change radically how modern society is structured, its economy and politics. Not a bad scenario ...more
Casey Willits
Apr 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
A good review of the bits and pieces of research that has trickled in for decades, but has increased most recently. It's a quick and pleasant read, but still challenges you intellectually as far as breaking down your assumptions, especially about your own place in the grand scheme of things. I recommend this for every person who runs for any level of office, even president of your neighborhood association.
Jim Robles
Jun 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Five Stars! It is not just that we are too poor at the bottom of the ladder, we are also far too rich at the top of the ladder. Professor Payne does a great of explaining how our unconscious neurology drives us. Practically, solutions abound if we are willing to share.

I found this one in:

Rise in Unruly Behavior on Planes Is Tied to Stress of Flying
One of the stresses of flying, researchers have found, is inequality. Planes, one expert said, “are a social ladder made of aluminum and
Jun 07, 2017 rated it liked it
This book presents evidence for how inequality affects our thinking, our action, and our life and death, backed by results from psychological experiments and statistical data analysis. The book is short and cannot delve into the subject. I still learn much, and wish for more.
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You know the saying: There's no time like the present...unless you're looking for a distraction from the current moment. In that case, we can't...
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“...high inequality is associated with higher rates of crime, greater risk of stress-related illness, and greater political polarization.” 4 likes
“Following that 350-year period of perfectly legal subjugation, a mere half century—less than a single lifetime—separates us from whites-only lunch counters, water fountains, and schools. How much have things changed since then?” 1 likes
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