Quote of the day: Pernicious effects of inequality


From a TED interview with Richard Wilkinson, co-author of The Spirit Level [previously], a brilliant study of the effects of inequality:

One of my brothers was in South Africa recently, and he heard a story of a young man living with his grandmother. His parents had died of AIDS and she lived on a pittance of a pension, and he said he must have a particular very expensive pair of jeans. She said she couldn’t possibly afford that, and he said he’d commit suicide if he couldn’t have these jeans. My brother was visiting some schools, and he asked the children if they knew what this was about, what was happening, and they said, oh yes, it’s just about status. Status becomes so much more important in a more unequal society.

People sometimes talk about low aspirations for children as if that was the problem. But we found that in more unequal countries, children tend to have higher aspirations — but they’re completely unrealistic aspirations. They all want to be sports stars or celebrities or directors of large companies: the only thing that matters is being rich. In more equal societies, it may still be acceptable to be a skilled craftsman without being regarded as a loser. The culture shifts with inequality.

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One response to “Quote of the day: Pernicious effects of inequality

  1. Emily McManus

    Thanks for featuring this quote! Richard was amazing to talk to. He still seems genuinely struck by how deep this goes — how the data so consistently leads to the conclusion he and Kate came to.

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