The Spirit Level
Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger
Publication Date: December 22, 2009
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The eye-opening and headline-generating UK bestseller that shows how one single factor—the gap between its richest and poorest members—can determine the health and well-being of a society.“This is a book with a big idea, big enough to change political thinking…In half a page [The Spirit Level] tells you more about the pain of inequality than any play or novel could.”—Sunday Times (UK ) It is well established that in rich societies the poor have shorter lives and suffer more from almost every social problem. Now a groundbreaking book, based on thirty years’ research, takes an important step past this idea. The Spirit Level shows that there is one common factor that links the healthiest and happiest societies: the degree of equality among their members. Not wealth; not resources; not culture, climate, diet, or system of government. Furthermore, more-unequal societies are bad for almost everyone within them—the well-off as well as the poor. The remarkable data assembled in The Spirit Level reveals striking differences, not only among the nations of the first world but even within America’s fifty states. Almost every modern social problem—ill-health, violence, lack of community life, teen pregnancy, mental illness—is more likely to occur in a less-equal society. This is why America, by most measures the richest country on earth, has per capita shorter average lifespan, more cases of mental illness, more obesity, and more of its citizens in prison than any other developed nation. Wilkinson and Pickett lay bare the contradiction between material success and social failure in today’s world, but they do not simply provide a diagnosis of our woes. They offer readers a way toward a new political outlook, shifting from self-interested consumerism to a friendlier, more sustainable society. The Spirit Level is pioneering in its research, powerful in its revelations, and inspiring in its conclusion: Armed with this new understanding of why communities prosper, we have the tools to revitalize our politics and help all our fellow citizens, from the bottom of the ladder to the top.
Richard Wilkinson has played a formative role in international research on inequality, and his work has been published in ten languages. He is professor emeritus at the University of Nottingham Medical School. Kate Pickett is a senior lecturer at the University of York and a National Institute for Health Research Career Scientist. They live in North Yorkshire, England.