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Demystifying Economic Stereotypes with Factfulness

How Accurate is My Perceived Worldview?

While traveling overseas before COVID-19, I had my family read Hans Rosling’s book, Factfulness, Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think. Before we began reading, each of us took the Factfulness Quiz – an activity I highly recommend.

Consider taking the quiz before you continue reading.

If you stopped to take the quiz, what did you think about your score? Were the answers what you expected? While I won’t go into the questions or answers posed in the quiz, I will say that it provides several statistics and provable facts relating to our world’s progress in various areas, including education, reducing poverty, and saving endangered creatures.

Unfortunately, much of the progress the quiz demonstrates is rolling back due to COVID-19 (see philanthropy article).

Redefining Developing/Developed Countries with Factfulness

Another important concept presented by Factfulness is a reset of the term(s) “Developing/Developed Countries” (terms we still use in this newsletter). Instead, the emerging terms related to economic categorization are now directed towards people, not nations.

Discussing situations based on national origin automatically groups everyone into a single category, even though there is economic diversity within each nation. Instead, by associating people with economic levels, we can ignore national boundaries and focus on understanding – dare I say empathizing.

More importantly, the goal is to eliminate any fatalistic language and even transform the way people think about those at lower economic levels.

Economic Levels Discussed in Factfulness

The new economic categories identified in Factfulness are simply termed Level 1-4. While the author discusses income, the more meaningful aspect of the descriptions is a look at how people at the different levels handle numerous daily tasks. For example, most of my “Level 4” family brush their teeth with an electric toothbrush using hot or cold water from the tap in the bathroom of our house.

In contrast, “Level 1” families predominantly use their finger or a stick to brush their teeth, using water they had to carry from a shared community water pump. One’s ability to conceptualize life through word pictures like these descriptions, rather than impersonal economic measures, has a significant impact on humanizing the daily life of people on the other side of the globe.

The chart below describes the basic levels. Click here for an article discussing the levels in further detail.

Level One< $215 percentGet around on their own two barefoot feet, cook over an open flame like a cook-fire, fetch water in a bucket and sleep on the ground.
Level Two$2 – $842 percentMight have some possessions like a bicycle, mattress or gas canister for cooking at home.
Level Three$8 – $3228 percentHas running water, might own a motorbike or car, and their meals are a rich and colorful mix of foods from day to day. They also probably have electricity and a fridge, which makes things like studying and eating enough varied nutrients easier.
Level Four> $3215%Has things like running water (both hot and cold) at home, a vehicle in the driveway, and plenty of nutrients on their plate. They’ve also likely had the chance to finish twelve years of school or more.

Leveling Down

An article title such as “Leveling Up” implies that classifying as a higher level is better – for some things, like decreased infant mortality, that is obviously true.

However, frequently it is not so simple. The “first world problems,” dare I say, “Level 4 problems,” that stress and worry us in the United States, are surely not necessarily improvements to one’s way of life. Those in Level 1 and Level 2 have a tremendous amount to teach us about lifestyle, happiness, and even prioritizing what matters.

In other words, regardless of your level, you can learn a lot and even improve your life in real ways through taking the time to understand levels other than your own and even adopting some of their lifestyle and thinking.

Want to Know More?

Consider these resources. They’ve helped me redefine my perspectives.

What About Covid?

Curious how Covid is affecting Level 1 individuals around the globe? Check out Eric Edmonds’ philanthropy article Developing Countries: Struggling to Survive the Pandemic.