Visualizing Global Poverty & Inequality

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

I recently applied for a position at the Center for Global Development, part of which involved a take-home exercise visualizing data from the World Bank's Poverty and Equity Database. I figured I'd share the code and results here. That said, if you're really interested in learning about global poverty and inequality, I highly recommend checking out Our World in Data, an excellent web publication by Max Roser.

The data, tracking various poverty and inequality measurements by country annually since 1975, is unfortunately extremely patchy, with about 90% of values missing. Even with interior interpolation, that only gets you to about 30%. If the assignment had allowed it, I'd recommend combining sources for a more complete dataset, but that's for another time. Despite the limitations, I'd like to think the figures I put together tell an interesting story. Enjoy!

Significant differences can be found when plotting the GDP per capita and inequality of countries from around the world. For example, while the Americas can be characterized by mid to high income and high inequality, European countries have significantly lower inequality. As the trend line shows, there seems to be a negative relationship between income and inequality, with a noticeable lack of high income, high inequality countries, the United States notwithstanding.

Despite significant global population growth, extreme poverty, defined as an income below $1.90 per day (2011 PPP), has decreased by about one billion people in 23 years. The vast majority of gains have been made in the East Asia & Pacific region, which alone accounted for almost one billion of the global poor in 1990, representing only 71 million by 2013. Disturbingly, Sub-Saharan Africa’s population in extreme poverty has increased more than 110 million over that time.

While global trends show tremendous progress, the stories of individual countries are more complex. Ethiopia and Pakistan have made huge strides in reducing poverty while maintaining their low inequality, while Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, has seen an 8% increase in poverty rate. Russia’s inequality spiked significantly after the break-up of the USSR, and in Brazil, the turn of the century brought a steady decline in both poverty and inequality.



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