The Land of Opportunity or Inequality? What the 'Great Gatsby Curve' Graph Shows

One graph claims to show the inverting relationship between inequality and opportunity. The Great Gatsby Curve sheds light on one of the key issues of our time. 

Inequality is one of the key issues of this year’s presidential election. It was the underlying issue behind the primary campaign of Bernie Sanders and has been mentioned often in the general election by both major candidates.  

Indeed, income inequality in the United States is as high as it has been since the 1920s according to economist Thomas Piketty. The growth of inequality has been pronounced since the 1970s both in scale and in speed. An occurrence so remarkable it has been called The Great Divergence.

What effect might this massive inequality have on us? What does this mean for us other than having to hear politicians ramble on? Will we have to settle for a new economic order in which massive inequality is the norm? Will it affect our way of life?

According to labour economist Alan Krueger, income inequality can have negative effects on social mobility. Effects negative enough to turn Scandinavia into the land of opportunity; and to leave the United States behind most of Western Europe in terms of mobility at birth. He explains the effect in his 'Great Gatsby Curve' graph; named ironically for the rags to riches title character of The Great Gatsby and his ability to advance in an unequal society.

On the vertical axis is the social immobility of a child born in each country. The higher it is the more influence your parents income has on your earnings as an adult. The lower it is, the more likely you are to move out of the income bracket that you are born into. On the other axis is the Gini coefficient, a measure of inequality in a country. The higher it is, the more concentrated wealth and income are.

The graph shows that among many countries there is a relationship between high income inequality and low social mobility. The countries in the lower left with the lowest inequality also have the highest mobility. The countries at the top right with the highest inequality have the least social mobility. As inequality increases, the chances of making much more money than your parents did decreases.

What does this mean for the current discussion of inequality? It means that if nothing is done the tendency of income to concentrate is liable to become more pronounced, as is the belief of Alan Krueger. He adds that the effect has likely already slowed the growth of the US economy, and could demoralize workers. It also means that inequality is only half the story, social mobility – and the policies which make it possible – have to be considered as well in the discussion.

Graph by BoogaLouie - Graph was creating using Excel. Source of data is Inequality from generation to generation the United States in comparison, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Income Inequality in the United States, 1913-1998" with Thomas Piketty, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 118(1), 2003, 1-39 (Longer updated version published in A.B. Atkinson and T. Piketty eds., Oxford University Press, 2007) (Tables and Figures Updated to 2015 in Excel format, June 2016)

Krueger, Alan B. "The Rise and Consequences of Inequality in the United States." (2012): n. pag.Https:// The White House. Web. 23 Aug. 2016.

Antimicrobial resistance is a growing threat to good health and well-being

Antimicrobial resistance is growing worldwide, rendering many "work horse" medicines ineffective. Without intervention, drug-resistant pathogens could lead to millions of deaths by 2050. Thankfully, companies like Pfizer are taking action.

Image courtesy of Pfizer.
  • Antimicrobial-resistant pathogens are one of the largest threats to global health today.
  • As we get older, our immune systems age, increasing our risk of life threatening infections. Without reliable antibiotics, life expectancy could decline for the first time in modern history.
  • If antibiotics become ineffective, common infections could result in hospitalization or even death. Life-saving interventions like cancer treatments and organ transplantation would become more difficult, more often resulting in death. Routine procedures would become hard to perform.
  • Without intervention, resistant pathogens could result in 10 million annual deaths by 2050.
  • By taking a multi-faceted approach—inclusive of adherence to good stewardship, surveillance and responsible manufacturing practices, as well as an emphasis on prevention and treatment—companies like Pfizer are fighting to help curb the spread.
Keep reading Show less

22 months of war - condensed in a 1-minute video

No, the Syrian civil war is not over. But it might be soon. Time for a recap

Strange Maps
  • The War in Syria has dropped off the radar, but it's not over (yet)
  • This 1-minute video shows how the fronts have moved – and stabilised – over the past 22 months
  • Watching this video may leave you both better informed, and slightly queasy: does war need a generic rock soundtrack?
Keep reading Show less

Bespoke suicide pods now available for death in style

Sarco assisted suicide pods come in three different styles, and allow you to die quickly and painlessly. They're even quite beautiful to look at.

The Sarco assisted suicide pod
Technology & Innovation

Death: it happens to everyone (except, apparently, Keanu Reeves). But while the impoverished and lower-class people of the world die in the same ol' ways—cancer, heart disease, and so forth—the upper classes can choose hip and cool new ways to die. Now, there's an assisted-suicide pod so chic and so stylin' that peeps (young people still say peeps, right?) are calling it the "Tesla" of death... it's called... the Sarco! 

Keep reading Show less

How to bring more confidence to your conversations

Entrepreneur and author Andrew Horn shares his rules for becoming an assured conversationalist.
  • To avoid basing action on external validation, you need to find your "authentic voice" and use it.
  • Finding your voice requires asking the right questions of yourself.
  • There are 3-5 questions that you would generally want to ask people you are talking to.
Keep reading Show less