The Gap Instinct

“We have [that irresistible] temptation to divide all kinds of things into two distinct and often conflicting groups with an imagined gap … It is [how] the gap instinct creates a picture in people’s heads of a world split into two kinds of countries or two kinds of people: rich versus poor.” This is a quote from Hans Rosling’s book, “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World — and Why Things Are Better Than You Think.”

In this book, Rosling tackles many aspects of the world in which people see the worst rather than what they really are. One of those is “The Gap Instinct.” Which the quote above explains.

Basically, the gap instinct is this belief that most of the world is living in these extremely poor conditions when the reality is not that at all.

Rosling writes, “I call them mega misconceptions because they have such an enormous impact on how people misperceive the world. [The Gap Instinct] is the worst. By dividing the world into two misleading boxes — rich and poor, it completely distorts all the global proportions in people’s minds.”

Using data from the United Nations (UN), Rosling begins his break down of the gap instinct and why the gap isn’t as big anymore as it was a few years ago.

Referring to a graph showing how many countries are in a developing stage and how many are developed, Rosling writes, “ … this picture shows the world in 1965 … that’s the problem.”

The graph Rosling is referring to shows two boxes, one containing developing countries and the other containing developed countries. In the developing box, there are 125 bubbles, and in the developed box there are only 44.

Rosling shows an updated graph with the same structure, except the developing countries box is almost entirely empty now. Which means most countries are developed today according to the UN.

“Eighty-five percent of mankind is already inside the box that used to be named “developed world.” The remaining 15 percent are mostly in between the two boxes. Only 13 countries, representing 6 percent of the world population, are still inside the “developing” box” Rosling explains.

Now Rosling uses the example of mortality rate, making an emphasis on child mortality to paint a picture of how life is basically lived. However, he explains that it ends up tying into other aspects of the world, like the overall economy of those countries.

It’s simple, the more children and people that survive in those countries, the better overall lives the people are living. They have better health care, access to things like better education, etc.

Since according to Rosling, people will always try to divide things because naturally, it’s easier to look at and understand things when they are divided into groups. Rosling suggests not seeing the world in two groups, but instead in four groups called “the four income levels.”

The four income levels are as follows. People in level 1 are people who live in extreme poverty, which most likely means their country is still in the developing box from the graph mentioned above. Level 2 are people who are living a lower-middle-class kind of lifestyle, these people would probably fit into the countries that appear between the boxes on the graph. Finally, levels 3 and 4 are people who are what we would consider the middle class and high class. They probably live in an already developed country.

Rosling shows a graph with stats from 2017, which is the same year the book was published. As he explains it, “Each figure in the chart represents 1 billion people, and the seven figures show how the current world population is spread out across four income levels, expressed in terms of dollar income per day.”

Using information from the UN as well for this graph, it shows that only 1 billion people are living on Level 1, which it explains as people who make $2 a day. 3 billion people are living on Level 2 making $8 a day. 2 billion people are living on Level 3 making $32 a day. Finally, 1 billion people are living on Level 4 making over $64 a day.

According to the graph, 5 billion people are living in the middle, on levels 2 and 3. Which means the world is essentially getting better with wage gaps and so on.

Focusing on a smaller area and not the entire world, let’s look at the Bay Area, for example, which is one of the most expensive places to live.

It is a fair assumption to say most people in the Bay Area are probably in levels 2 and 3, some may even be on level 4. Of course, there can and are some exceptions like homeless people, or people who live paycheck to paycheck.

If we divide it, we can see the four levels within just the Bay. Level 1 would be homeless. Level 2 would be people living paycheck to paycheck, getting just enough to have the essentials. Level 3 would be people living comfortably, who can buy the essentials and a few luxuries here and there. Level 4, of course, would be people that live really comfortably and don’t necessarily have to worry too much about their situation.

So we can see Rosling’s point even within a small part of the world. Yes, it’s costly to live here, but we manage to pull through. Basically, that’s Rosling’s point, that this break down allows us to see a more precise break down because things are not what they used to be 20 or even 10 years ago and based on this model the world does seem to be getting better.

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About Enrique Zarate

My name is Enrique Zarate, I don’t have much experience with journalism. I have only done small interviews and put together a few articles for my high school yearbook during my senior year. This year I am getting some more experience being a Spotter for the San Francisco 49ers Spanish broadcasts on I am looking forward to learning a lot more now working with a professional sports team and I look forward to covering them for years to come. My goal is to one day become a sports show host or a color commentator for either soccer, football, or basketball.

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