Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Chart of the Week: The changing patterns of global income distribution

As a use of cutting-edge graphics to visualize and explain complex data,  it’s hard to beat this witty presentation on the changing patterns of global income distribution by Hans Rosling, a professor of global health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet. But you really need to see it in motion.

Rosling, who rather aptly calls himself an “edutainer,” starts with a chart of individual countries’ 2012 per-capita income plotted against average lifespan. Then, in what at times seems like a clip from “Minority Report,” Rosling pulls the data backward in time, focuses just on income, collapses the bubbles into four geographic income distributions and then runs them forward. The result: Not just an illustration, but a demonstration of how dramatically extreme poverty has fallen in recent years, especially in Asia, and how the world’s income distribution has taken on more of a classic bell-curve shape.

Rosling’s entire talk, in which he uses similar 3-D graphics to discuss population growth, life expectancy and other global trends, was broadcast by the BBC Thursday night. It’s a fascinating look not just at rapidly changing demographics but at innovative, informative display technology. (Nor is this Rosling’s first venture into the realm of high-tech visualization: A few years back he summed up 200 years’ worth of socioeconomic history in 200 countries in just about four minutes.)