The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger

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Overview

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 everyone within them—the rich and middle class as well as the poor.

The remarkable data assembled in The Spirit Level
exposes stark differences, not only among the nations of the first world but even within America's fifty states. Almost every modern social problem—poor health, violence, lack of community life, teen pregnancy,
mental illness—is more likely to occur in a less-equal society.

Renowned researchers Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett lay bare the contradictions between material success and social failure in the developed world. But they do not merely tell us what's wrong. They offer a way toward a new political outlook, shifting from self-interested consumerism to a friendlier, more sustainable society.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Popular wisdom would tell us that poverty is the breeding ground for many of society's ills. But British academics Wilkinson (emeritus, Univ. of Nottingham Medical Sch.) and Pickett (senior lecturer, Univ. of York) argue otherwise. They've woven together a great deal of international research to show that inequality, not poverty per se, is what contributes most to social problems. The authors not only compare data from a range of countries but also gather data from all 50 states to verify that relationships that exist on a national level also exist on a more local scale. The first element examined is trust as a measure of community life and social relations. Once it is established that people in unequal societies don't trust one another, the stage is set to examine a host of other dystopian problems from mental health to teenage births to social mobility. VERDICT In this fascinating sociological study, the authors do an excellent job of presenting the research, analyzing nuances, and offering policy suggestions for creating more equal and sustainable societies. For all readers, specialized or not, with an interest in understanding the dynamics today between economic and social conditions.—Carol J. Elsen, Univ. of Wisconsin-Whitewater Lib.
Kirkus Reviews
Predatory capitalism makes some of us poor and some of us rich, of course, but it also makes most of us sick, crime-ridden and mad-or so two British social scientists contend. In a scholarly work that is already exciting widespread discussion outside the academy, Wilkinson (Univ. of Nottingham Medical School) and Pickett (Univ. of York) show that by nearly every measure of the quality of life, societies with high income inequality fare more poorly than those with a more even distribution of wealth. In the United States, writes former labor secretary Robert Reich in the foreword, the top one percent of earners has tripled its share of the economy since 1980-when, not coincidentally, Ronald Reagan came to power and began to deregulate everything. Reich scorns the thought that the Obama administration should be branded socialist for wanting to return some social controls to 1980 and even 1990 levels. Wilkinson and Pickett are measured and even cautious in advancing their interpretations of the data, which are full of curiosities. In unequal countries, for instance, women suffer from greater levels of certain kinds of mental illness than do men, and some diseases-particularly heart-related illnesses and obesity-seem strongly correlated to disparities in wealth distribution. Everywhere, the links between legalized robbery and other kinds of crime are strong. The authors relate much of the problem to the overall phenomenon of anxiety-perhaps not the most scientific of diagnostic words, but one that does the job. Ultimately, they urge a return to the concept that liberty and equality are connected-the idea that they are not "seems to have emerged during the Cold War."A book full of dangerousideas and useful statistics, all worthy of attention, discussion and action. Author tour to New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Ore.
From the Publisher
"Wilkinson and Pickett make an eloquent case that the income gap between a nation's richest and poorest is the most powerful indicator of a functioning and healthy society.…Felicitous prose and fascinating findings make this essential [listening]." —-Publishers Weekly Starred Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781608190362
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 12/22/2009
  • Pages: 330
  • Product dimensions: 6.46 (w) x 9.58 (h) x 1.26 (d)

Meet the Author


Kate Pickett is a professor of epidemiology at the University of York and a National Institute for Health Research career scientist.

Richard Wilkinson is a professor emeritus of social epidemiology at the University of Nottingham Medical School and an honorary professor at University College London.

Clive Chafer is a professional actor, director, and producer, as well as a theater instructor. He is the founder of TheatreFIRST, Oakland's only professional, season-producing theater company, where he served as artistic director until 2008. He teaches classical dramatic literature and other subjects at the University of San Francisco.

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Table of Contents

Foreword Robert B. Reich ix

Preface xiii

Acknowledgements xvii

Note on Graphs xix

Part 1 Material Success, Social Failure

1 The end of an era 3

2 Poverty or inequality? 15

3 How inequality gets under the skin 31

Part 2 The Costs of Inequality

4 Community life and social relations 49

5 Mental health and drug use 63

6 Physical health and life expectancy 73

7 Obesity: wider income gaps, wider waists 89

8 Educational performance 103

9 Teenage births: recycling deprivation 119

10 Violence: gaining respect 129

11 Imprisonment and punishment 145

12 Social mobility: unequal opportunities 157

Part 3 A Better Society

13 Dysfunctional societies 173

14 Our social inheritance 197

15 Equality and sustainability 217

16 Building the future 235

Postscript - Research Meets Politics 273

The Equality Trust 299

Appendix 301

Sources of Data for the Indices of Health and Social Problems 306

Statistics 310

References 312

Index 343

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
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  • Posted July 19, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Fixing Our Societies Together.

    A favorable review: insightful, informative, and educational. Quote from page 5: ".the truth is that both the broken society and the broken economy resulted from the growth of inequality." - taken from, The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger by Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett (2009). Here is part of a quote on page 18: ".modern societies are, despite their affluence, social failures." *This book encourages readers to ponder many of our societies "social ills." *Some of its focuses are on changing levels of mental illness {including drug & alcohol addiction}, life expectancy & infant mortality, obesity, teenage pregnancy & birth rates, homicides and imprisonment rates. *This book also encourages the reader to work toward viable solutions to change inequality in the individual societies and the global society. Here is a quote to consider from page 26: "The services are all expensive, and none of them is more than partially effective." *Some of the message of this book is: ".a country wants higher average levels of educational achievement among its school children, it must address the underlying inequality," and this is a similar message to Michelle Alexander's message in the book, New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness about the inequality of the criminal justice system. ***Inequality breeds mistrust. *This book and the one by Michelle Alexander are worth reading to be enlightened on these topics and consider viable solutions to improve our society and the world, and to consider how to tackle inequality.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 17, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Details Major Cause of Health and Social Problems

    Wilkinson and Pickett have pulled together a large body of research showing that income inequality is the foundation of a wide range of health and social problems. This is probably the number 1 factor that, if addressed, would create the equitable kind of world most of us want to live in. Income inequality is the issue that most needs to be solved. The authors display the information in easy to understand charts and describe the information in easily understandable, only mildy technical language. The solutions the authors propose are not as easy to understand nor to see how they might be implemented. I highly recommend this book.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 25, 2011

    Must Read

    Highly recommended for anyone who cares about humankind, and where our country and world are headed.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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