The rich-poor divide

Posted: 14 December 2007

In 1960, the per-capita gross domestic product (GDP) of the 20 richest countries was 18 times that of the 20 poorest countries. By 1995, the gap between the richest and poorest nations had more than doubled to 37 times.

  • Millions of the poor are getting poorer and the gap between rich and poor is widening. According to the United Nations Development Programme's Human Development Report 2003, "more than 50 nations grew poorer over the past decade". A UNICEF study in 2000 said: "A new face of 'apartheid' seems to be spreading across the globe, as millions of people live in wretched conditions side-by-side with those who enjoy unprecedented prosperity."

  • Of all high-income nations, the United States has the most unequal distribution of income, with over 30 per cent of income in the hands of the richest 10 per cent and only 1.8 per cent going to the poorest 10 per cent.

  • In 2001 the average annual pay of US CEOs topped $11 million-some 350 times as much as the average US factory worker (who earned, on average $31,260).
Diseases of poverty and wealth
  • Despite a slowdown in world population growth, the 49 poorest countries in the world still have populations that are increasing at an average of 2.4 per cent a year - nearly 10 times the annual growth in industrial nations.

  • Infant mortality in low-income countries is 13 times greater than in high-income countries. In the 49 least-developed countries in the world, women face a lifetime risk of death from pregnancy or childbirth that is more than 150 times greater than that for women in industrial nations.

  • Lack of clean water or sanitation kills 1.7 million people each year-90 per cent of them children.

  • Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 70 per cent of the world's HIV positive people. Only four per cent of people living with AIDS in low- and middle- income nations are receiving AIDS treatment.

  • Europeans and Americans constitute just 28 per cent of the world population, but account for 42 per cent of deaths from cardiovascular diseases and cancers-diseases of affluence.

  • Eighty-two per cent of the world's 1.1 billion smokers now live in developing countries.

Source: Vital Signs 2003, published by the Worldwatch Institute.