Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off your first 2 months of Unlimited Monthly. Start your subscription for just £35.99 £24.99. New subscribers only T&Cs apply

Find out more

Global inequality

The key difference between inequality within a country and global inequality is largely one of scale. Watch this video led by Dan to find out more.
The key difference between inequality within a country and global inequality is largely one of scale. Just as a poverty line that represents the UK’s situation is very different to one that accurately captures global poverty, global inequality operates on quite a different level. The issues are the same though, starting with inequality of income and wealth, we then see inequality in education, health, housing, crime, and access to other services. We also see substantial gender inequality. Oxfam publish a report each year and one headline statistic has become somewhat of an institution – though not all experts quite buy their figures!
Oxfam stated in 2010 that 388 billionaires – a number that could easily be accommodated on a commercial aeroplane – owned the same wealth as half the world. Each year they published the statistic, which reduced each time. The 388 on an aeroplane became 80 on a yacht, then 62 on a double-decker bus, and most recently, 26. Time for a single-decker bus! The idea that 26 people could own as much as over 3-and-a-half billion people is perhaps quite shocking. Now we always have to be critical of sources, but even those who use very different methods and data still conclude that a very small number of individuals own more than half the population of the world.
I said that there is a gender-dimension to this. The 22 richest men in the world have more wealth than all the women in Africa. Women are more likely to be in informal work, or locked out of work in order to undertake unpaid caring responsibilities, and less likely to participate in formal education. Now across the developing world, a child from a poor family is seven times less likely to finish secondary school than a child from a rich family, but according to Oxfam, many of the poorest girls don’t even make it through the classroom doors. Gender, like income, ethnicity and geography, determines who gets a quality education –or an education at all.
In a poor rural area of Pakistan, girls are three times more likely than poor boys to have never attended school. If we turn to health inequalities, there are large health inequalities both between and within countries. In 2015, average life expectancy in the UK was 81.2 years, compared with Japan (the highest at over 83 years) and Sierra Leone (the lowest at roughly 50 years) – and we know that will vary within Sierra Leone. Child mortality, teenage pregnancy, ill-health, all varies also. If we were to line every human being up from poorest to richest and take a guess at where a person might be on that line, what might we wish to know about them in order to improve our guess?
Whether they are female or not? How much their parents earned? Whether they had attended university? These would all be useful pieces of information and would help us. But if we could only know one thing, the most useful single piece of information you could have to shape your guess, would be the country of birth. When we think about all the arguments around deserving and undeserving poor, of working hard to improve your situation, it is difficult to bend these to that simple fact. Where you are born matters. And you have no control over that whatsoever.

Just as inequality is an issue within the UK, so it is in other countries.

Perhaps more stark is the inequality we see if we consider the world as-a-whole.

After watching the film, please share your thoughts on which elements had a particular impact on you.

This article is from the free online

Understanding and Solving Poverty and Inequality

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now