The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger

The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger


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Groundbreaking analysis showing that greater economic equality-not greater wealth-is the mark of the most successful societies, and offering new ways to achieve it.

"Get your hands on this book."-Bill Moyers

This groundbreaking book, based on thirty years' research, demonstrates that more unequal societies are bad for almost everyone within them-the well-off and the poor. The remarkable data the book lays out and the measures it uses are like a spirit level which we can hold up to compare different societies. The differences revealed, even between rich market democracies, are striking. Almost every modern social and environmental problem-ill health, lack of community life, violence, drugs, obesity, mental illness, long working hours, big prison populations-is more likely to occur in a less equal society. The book goes to the heart of the apparent contrast between material success and social failure in many modern national societies.

The Spirit Level does not simply provide a diagnosis of our ills, but provides invaluable instruction in shifting the balance from self-interested consumerism to a friendlier, more collaborative society. It shows a way out of the social and environmental problems which beset us, and opens up a major new approach to improving the real quality of life, not just for the poor but for everyone. It is, in its conclusion, an optimistic book, which should revitalize politics and provide a new way of thinking about how we organize human communities.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781608193417
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 04/26/2011
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 142,930
Product dimensions: 5.38(w) x 8.22(h) x 1.09(d)

About the Author

Richard Wilkinson has played a formative role in international research in inequalities in health and his work has been published in 10 languages. He studied economic history at the London School of Economics before training in epidemiology and is Professor Emeritus at the University of Nottingham Medical School and Honorary Professor at University College London.

Kate Pickett is a Professor of Epidemiology at the University of York and a former National Institute for Health Research Career Scientist. She is the co-founder of The Equality Trust. She studied physical anthropology at Cambridge, nutritional sciences at Cornell and epidemiology at Berkeley before spending four years as an Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago.

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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Spirit Level 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
EGHunter01 More than 1 year ago
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.
Bill922 More than 1 year ago
Highly recommended for anyone who cares about humankind, and where our country and world are headed.
Mybookreview More than 1 year ago
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.
gbsallery on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Utter bilge from before the first page. I picked this up as it has gained some media prominence as being "important", or even more worryingly as a book which is influencing political thought at this moment of retrenchment following the financial crises. However it is clear from the introductory notes (which "explain" how lines of best-fit are to be read, and urge the reader to take it on trust that their best-fit lines are correct and meaningful) that this book is actually an attempt to justify an ideological position by selectively presenting a mass of sociological data. The data points (and sets) reveal massive selection bias, and reference to the original sources (OECD, UN etc) shows that even the data which is presented is often presented disingenuously.Edward Tufte would have a field-day dissecting this book. Do not read. If your local MP appears to have read it, be afraid.
Vintagecoats on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As a current graduate student in peace studies and conflict resolution, one would be forgiven for thinking that I already agree with many of the arguments which drive this book. That is, that societies with greater levels of mutual equality between all of their members possess fewer instances of conflict and structural weaknesses in social and state institutions. That being said though, this work comes to the table with an arsenal of statistics and research to drive its point home and stave off a number of anticipated responses from doubters. Charts and tables are common accessories to the writing, to provide as many opportunities as possible for visual representations of the research to remain present in the mind of the reader.If anything, my only real complaint with the book, enough so that it is worth a whole point deduction, is the density of it all. This is an important book certainly, but it certainly does not possess the slickness of little witticisms and other such accoutrements that would be necessary for most folks to consider giving it a read. It works as an excellent textbook, and the information contained within makes some seriously important arguments, but it will be incredibly difficult for one to convince a friend or family member to borrow or buy it.
petrolpetal on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved reading this book because it confirmed for me much of what I had suspected, and suggested that my views were supported by the data. In reading the reviews here though, I fear I may have been too uncritical, and I intend to reread the book with a mind on the comments below.
tcoulter on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Using cross-country comparisons and a wealth of data, Wilkinson and Pickett make a strong argument for how and why a more equal distribution of wealth create a happier and healthier society. This book is important not only because it makes the case that quality of life is improved for those in disadvantaged positions when a society is more equal (a pretty simple argument to support) but because it also argues that quality of life (read: happiness and satisfaction, at least) for those in positions of economic power in more equal societies is greater than in highly unequal societies. My only gripes about this book are its rather constant reference to charts and graphs embedded in the text, and its reliance on explaining the data instead of discussing the concepts.
libraryhead on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A compelling statement of the problem, but their proposed solutions are fairly thin sauce. Nothing for it but to move to Scandinavia, apparently!
Librtea on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In The Spirit Level, authors Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett claim that economic inequality among members of a society leads to many problems including poorer health and shorter life expectancy, more crime and imprisonment, higher rates of mental illness, drug abuse, and obesity, as well as a host of other problems. Inequality negatively impacts all levels of society ¿ the poor, the wealthy and the middle class.The authors include substantial data to support their assertions. In Part One, ¿Material Success, Social Failure" they address the current condition of the developed world. In Part Two, ¿The Costs of Inequality¿, separate chapters are devoted to each problem area. In Part Three, ¿A Better Society¿, the authors outline strategies that could be used to promote greater economic equality. They emphasize that how a society becomes more equal is less important than the fact that it actually does become more equal.The Spirit Level is an interesting and convincing book. Readers will be hard pressed to deny the correlation between economic inequality and negative social outcomes. One of the most satisfying aspects of the book is that it offers solutions rather than merely highlight problems. The authors are optimistic that the problems can be solved. They encourage us to take action.
vpfluke on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a book which hopes, by the laying out of a lot of data, particularly in thr form of charts, to pesuade its readers that equality should be a prime goal for every society. The United States and to a considerably lesser degree, other English-speaking countries, tend to show up as being less equal than other Western societies and Japan. So, one can almost see a bias here, even if the the bias is a reflection of truth. In the United States, the ideal of liberty very much trumps the ideal of equality. Much health care debate in the U.S. revolves around issues of being able to choose ones own doctors, the protection of previous health plans, the presumption that the federal government canot be competent, etc. The fairness or widespread coverage of plans is less discussed. "The Spirit Level" does not really address this political cultural divide very well, although I agree with the technical analysis as presented in the book.I particularly resonated with the chaper on Imprisonment and Punishment. The U.S. spends enormous resources on incarceration with little effective results.Another issue not well dealt with is that of how immigrants fare in the U.S. I can see where the U.S. has a greater sense of fraternity with immigrants than most other countries have (the possible exception is illegal Mexican immigrants).Another issue to look at is how well do incentives work when the playing field becomes very level. This book really does not deal with ideals like inspiration and inventiveness, which are highly valued in the U.S.The book is well researched, and I love all the charts, even when there sometimes seems to be an arcane selectivess to some of them.
Janientrelac on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The most dramatic information in this book is how badly the US does (and Portugal) among the developed nations by any rating, infant deaths to life expectancy, etc. but that is not new. What is interesting is how this effects the rich, rich people would actually be better off in a more egalitarian societies.
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