New Internationalist

Measures of Equality - The Facts

Issue 364

Equality - and its opposite - cannot be measured in numbers and calculations alone. Nevertheless the statistics can be quite revealing.

Stefan Boness / Panos Pictures /
Stefan Boness / Panos Pictures /


Income equality worldwide
Today the richest 1% of the world’s people receive as much as the poorest 57%. The 25 million richest Americans have as much income as almost two billion of the world’s poorest people.1

Equality within countries – the Gini index1

The Gini index measures equality in income and consumption in a society. The lower the number, the more equal the society – 0 is perfect equality, 100 perfect inequality. Hungary is the most equal society according to this measure, followed by Japan, Belgium and Sweden; Brazil, Nicaragua, South Africa and Namibia are among the most unequal.1

The Gini index for Australia is 35; for Canada is 31; for Ireland is 36; for Japan is 25; for New Zealand/Aotearoa is 36.

The pay gap between bosses and workers varies greatly – and in some countries is becoming vast.


Photo: Bill Stephenson / Panos Pictures /
Photo: Bill Stephenson / Panos Pictures /

Ethnic minorities, indigenous peoples and tribal people everywhere face discrimination. This is reflected in quantifiable access to services and resources.

•In Britain people from ethnic minorities are twice as likely to be unemployed as white people.9
•Native Americans are 8 times more likely to get TB than other Americans and 37% die before the age of 45.10
•In South Africa more than 98% of whites live in formal houses, while more than 50% of Africans live in traditional dwellings and the most basic shacks.7
•In 15 US states, black women are incarcerated at rates of between 10 and 35 times greater than white women.11


•In the US in 1960 the proportion of people finishing four years of high school was 43% for whites and 20% for African Americans – a gap of 23%. By 1998 the gap was 6% with a 82% completion rate for whites and 76% for African Americans.7
•In Guatemala from 1995 to 1999 the child mortality rate among indigenous Mayans declined from 94 per 1,000 live births to 79.7


Equality in trade rules remains a distant dream. Aid to poor countries does little to offset the damaging effects of unfair trade.

Subsidies that bolster rich world agriculture at the expense of the poor far exceed aid.1

EU annual dairy subsidy per cow
= $ 913.00

EU annual aid per African person
= $ 8.00

Japan’s annual dairy subsidy per cow
= $ 2,700.00

Japan’s annual aid per African person
= $ 1.47


There are more women than men in the global workforce now, but women are still the poorest of the poor, representing 70% of those in absolute poverty.6

• Female literacy rates have been rising but still two-thirds of the world’s 860 million illiterate adults are women.7
• More girls are receiving education but still 54% of the world’s children out of school are girls.12

Equal pay
In every part of the world women, on average, earn at least 25% less than men.1

Denmark, at 71%, has the most equal ratio. The United Arab Emirates, with 21%, is the least equal. Figures do not exist for most of Africa.1

Nowhere in the world do women hold equal political power to men, but some countries are getting close to equal representation in parliament.1,8


Children who live, children who die1
If you compare child mortality in the rich OECD countries and other regions, children in poorer regions are more, not less likely to die under the age of five compared to 1990 levels.1

In 1990 a child in sub-Saharan Africa was 18 times more likely to die than a child in a rich country. In 2001 it was 25 times more likely.

In 1990 a child in the former Soviet Union was 3.5 times more likely to die. In 2001 it was 5 times.

Longer lives, shorter lives1,2
In most countries life expectancy has steadily increased over the past decade – but not in HIV- and IMF-ravaged sub-Saharan Africa.


Rich countries contain only 16% of the world’s population and yet generate 51% of greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. The US alone produces 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions.1

  1. UNDP, Human Development Report 2003, Oxford University Press.
  2. UNDP, Human Development Report 1993 and Human Development Report 2003, Oxford University Press.
  3. The Guardian, 18 February 2003.
  4. Worldwatch Institute, Vital Signs 2003-04, Earthscan 2003.
  5. Nikki van der Gaag, No Nonsense Guide to Women’s Rights, New Internationalist/Verso 2004.
  6. Dan Smith, The State of the World Atlas, Earthscan 2003.
  7. UNDP, Human Development Report 2000, Oxford University Press.
  8. Inter Parliamentary Union, Press Release No 176, Geneva, 22 October 2003.
  9. HRM Guide,
  10. Lotte Hughes, No Nonsense Guide to Indigenous People, New Internationalist/Verso 2003.
  11. Human Rights Watch 2003,
  12. UNICEF The State of the World’s Children 2004.
  13. Julia Finch and David Gow, ‘Low earners: mining, catering and retail firms are at the bottom of the FTSE league’, The Guardian, 2 August 2003.

Note: US dollars used here and throughout magazine.

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This article was originally published in issue 364

New Internationalist Magazine issue 364
Issue 364

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