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What is life like at the median global income?

by JP Addison1 min read30th Jun 20214 comments

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Global health and development
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I recently learned from the Key EA Numbers Anki deck that median household income is Int$2,835, or $236 per month (methodology). I'm interested in some slice-of-life data about people earning about that much money. Imagine answering these questions for common archetypes of people at that income. If I imagine myself living at that income:

  • What type of food do I eat?
  • Do I typically own the land I live on? What's my house like? How many people do I live with?
  • How far away is the nearest city?
  • How do I make money, or am I subsistence farming?
  • What countries might I live in?
  • What impact has Covid had on my life?
  • How much money do I have tucked away for emergencies, if any? Do I have anyone I can depend on if I find myself in need?
  • What medical care can I get?

That's a lot of questions that might be difficult to answer, so definitely answer even if you only have information about one. I'm sure I'm curious about more than just those questions — I'd be happy if the comments were filled with all sorts of random related information.

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Dollar Street is great for visualizing this!

Here's a family in Jordan with a monthly income of $249: https://www.gapminder.org/dollar-street?active=5fd03b43f2d9500e4358f313

And a family in the Philippines who earn $238 per month: https://www.gapminder.org/dollar-street?min=169&max=285&active=5fd043b2f2d9500e435926ea

Thanks! That's very much the sort of thing that's helpful.

It's been years since I read it, but I recall Poor Economics (https://www.amazon.com/Poor-Economics-audiobook/dp/B006ST3XTW/ref=sr_1_4?dchild=1&qid=1625123657&refinements=p_27%3AEsther+Duflo&s=books&sr=1-4) providing significant insight on life at lower levels of income; I think it was probably also informative about the median case.

If a whole book is too much, you could also try their article, Economic Lives of the Poor - https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/jep.21.1.141 - but this is explicitly focused on people living below the extreme poverty line, who are an order of magnitude poorer than the global median.