The Story of Globalization in 1 Graph

A crystal-clear picture of the world's winners and losers in the last generation
More

Imagine you lined up every human being in the world by income, divided them into 100 groups ("percentiles") ranging from lowest to highest, and asked: How has the last generation of economic growth been for you?

This is the answer. It's a graph of real income growth for the entire world population, regardless of country, from poor to rich, drawn by Branko Milanovic, the lead economist of the World Bank’s research department.

Source: Milanovic, B., Lead Economist, World Bank Research Department, Global income inequality by the numbers.

Globalization has winners and losers. The winners—particularly the upwardly mobile middle classes of China, India, Indonesia,Brazil, and Egypt—occupy the long hump of this elephant-like line. They have seen their inflation-adjusted incomes grow by 70 percent or more. The world's "1%" (which works out to the top 12 percent of the U.S., or households making more than $130,000) is also racing away with income, particularly at the tippy-top.

But the story for world's poorest percentiles has been the same as for the developed world's lower-middle class: No growth or worse.

The graph is a real print-and-saver, because even as we debate the sad geography of social mobility in the United States, the true geography of social mobility is global. And it has been a far happier story. The typical Chinese worker in 1988 was richer than only 10 percent of the globe's workers. Today he's richer than half the world. The typical Indian worker has moved from the 10th percentile to the 27th in the world; the Indonesian has gone from 25th to 39th; and in Brazil, from 40th to 66th.

Note this graph does not take into consideration the aftermath of the Great Recession, which has particularly hurt the "developed world middle class" group.

(Via Joe Weisenthal)

Jump to comments
Presented by

Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What Do You See When You Look in the Mirror?

In a series of candid video interviews, women talk about self-image, self-judgment, and what it means to love their bodies


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Business

Just In