[2/100] Economic World History in One Chart


What this chart shows:

This chart shows the distribution of the annual income between all world citizen. To make incomes comparable across countries and across time the annual incomes are measured in International Dollars – this is a currency that would would buy a comparable amount of goods and services a U.S. dollar would buy in the United States in 1990.

The distribution of incomes is shown at 3 points in time:

  • In 1820 only few countries achieved economic growth. The chart shows that the majority of the world lived in poverty with an income similar to the poorest countries in Africa today (around 500 International Dollars).
  • 150 years later in the year 1950 the world has changed – it became very unequal. The world income distribution has the shape of a camel. One hump at around 500 International Dollars and a second hump at around 5,000 International Dollars – the world was divided into a poor developing world and a 10-times richer developed world.
  • The world income distribution has changed dramatically over the following 3 decades! The poorer countries, especially in South-East Asia, have caught up. The two-humped camel shaped has changed into a one-humped dromedar shape – the world is not divided in two anymore. And not only is the world more equal again, the distribution has also shifted to the right – the world is much richer!

This is part of my 100 chart project.

Data Sources:

I have taken the data from van Zanden, J.L., et al. (eds.) (2014), How Was Life?: Global Well-being since 1820, OECD Publishing. Online here. The plotted data is interpolated using Cardinal spline.
The data used in this OECD publication is originally from the Clio-Infra data base and I have taken the data of average incomes (=GDP per capita) in 2000 (shown in green) from the same source.

Link to OurWorldInData.org

The interactive version of this chart – showing the World Income Distribution in 1800, 1929, 1950, 1960, 1970, 1980, and 2000 – is available in the data entry on inequality between world citizens.