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The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  5,799 ratings  ·  548 reviews
A groundbreaking work on the root cause of our ills, which is changing the way politicians think. 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 ...more
Hardcover, 330 pages
Published April 2nd 2009 by Not Avail
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Dec 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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 b
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 comprehensiv
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 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it really liked it
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
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
Apr 16, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Dec 21, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
Sep 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Turns out there’s really good data that inequality hurts everyone. Even the winners.
Sep 25, 2009 rated it did not like it
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
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
Mar 10, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hyped, harmful-maybe
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.

Here's a meta-analysis contradicting the health thesis, from 2004.

Here's the excellent anal
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

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
Jul 13, 2009 added it
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
Jul 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 26, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics, non-fiction
3.5 rounded up

5 stars for the idea, but it’s inevitable that a book like this doesn’t make for the most exciting read and is by its very nature quite repetitive. Lots of graphs (which I appreciated) and a hell of a lot of examples, but each chapter - unsurprisingly - has the same message. This isn’t a criticism per se, just an advisory that this is best read over a longer period, perhaps a chapter at a time.

It’s clear that a hell of a lot of research has gone into this and I just hope it falls
Nov 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Bill Leach
Jun 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Zoltan Pogatsa
Sep 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Everyon must read this book. :) Full stop. :)
Apr 05, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Emre Sevinç
May 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The evidence and argumentation is strong in this one. The core idea is simple and powerful, it reveals itself in many aspects of many different societies with very different institutional systems. The core idea is that humans long for better conditions, not only in the sense of absolute material conditions (so, please stop repeating "but hey, global poverty levels are down, time to celebrate!", because nobody is arguing against that), but in the sense of relative psychological and sociological s ...more
Thomas Edmund
Apr 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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 findings are outli
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 can't rate th
First of all, I want to make clear from the start that I support the idea that inequality is something that we should solve in any society and I've read a number of books on this issue. This one was recommended to me by my Canadian friend we disagreed on the issue. Being born in the URSS my argument, before reading this book, was that inequality is not the First issue, and the way you achieve it is very important. My argument was that USSR before its collapse was having the same equality level a ...more
Leon M
Feb 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
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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

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95 likes · 10 comments
“The big idea is that what matters in determining mortality and health in a society is less the overall wealth of that society and more how evenly wealth is distributed. The more equally wealth is distributed the better the health of that society.” 2 likes
“You can predict a country’s performance on one outcome from a knowledge of others. If – for instance – a country does badly on health, you can predict with some confidence that it will also imprison a larger proportion of its population, have more teenage pregnancies, lower literacy scores, more obesity, worse mental health, and so on. Inequality seems to make countries socially dysfunctional across a wide range of outcomes.” 2 likes
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