Income and Health

by Russ Roberts on March 7, 2007

in Data, Health, Standard of Living

Alert, alert. Do not miss this. Best thing I’ve seen in a long time. Three people told me about in the last two days. And I’m pretty sure someone else told me about it before that and I just missed it. Don’t miss it.

So go here. It is a spectacular presentation on how international measures of life expectancy and other measures of health are getting better over time and the relationship to income. It’s also has some spectacular examples of how averages can be misleading. But equally compelling is the way the data are presented. This is so cool.

When you’re done, more info here.

HT: Avi Hoffman, Ville (in the comments at EconTalk on the Easterbrook podcast) and Ben Parizek.

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{ 6 comments }

happyjuggler0 March 7, 2007 at 3:29 pm

I'll confess to have had major trouble navigating the gapminder site for several months now. Each time someone posts about it I briefly check it out and quit again with frustration.

That said, the following (old?) link is a joy in my opinion. I recommend dramatically reducing the biggest circle sizes and using two to four countries at a time, change the opacity of non-selected countries to the far left (i.e. invisible), as well as documenting the circles over time instead of hiding their history. Also slow down the speed a *lot* helps me anyway. For more dramatic illustration select linear scale instead of log.

http://tools.google.com/gapminder/#$majorMode=chart$is;shi=t;ly=2003;lb=f;il=t;fs=11;al=30;stl=t;st=t;nsl=t;se=t$wst;tts=C$ts;sp=6;ti=2004$zpv;v=0$inc_x;mmid=XCOORDS;iid=NY%2EGDP%2EPCAP%2EPP%2EKD;by=ind$inc_y;mmid=YCOORDS;iid=SP%2EDYN%2ELE00%2EIN;by=ind$inc_s;uniValue=20;iid=SP%2EPOP%2ETOTL;by=ind$inc_c;uniValue=255;gid=1004;iid=SP%2EPOP%2EDPND;by=grp$map_x;scale=log;dataMin=466;dataMax=64299$map_y;scale=lin;dataMin=24;dataMax=82$map_s;sma=21;smi=1.2$inds=

My favorite comparison is to compare Ireland, Portugal and Switzerland at the same time, noting the difference starting in 1975 and the end. Clearly Ireland did "something" right during this time period while the other two countries didn't. For a life expectancy and GDP growth comparison, comparing Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, and Senegal is eye opening.

happyjuggler0 March 7, 2007 at 3:31 pm

Damn, sorry about the link. Try this instead. I can never remember which sites have html enabled.

happyjuggler0 March 7, 2007 at 3:39 pm

One further pointer on the link I provided. Dragging the country names out of the way is easy enough to do.

happyjuggler0 March 7, 2007 at 3:44 pm

Lol. Ok, One more suggestion. Often, such as in the case of my Ireland, Portugal and Switzerland comparison, magnifying the are in question is also more dramatic.

Bruce Hall March 7, 2007 at 5:21 pm

Over 30 years of working with data and developing or viewing presentations and this is the best use of graphics I've seen.

What is critically important: the integrity of the data. If someone starts plugging in estimates or projections based on proxies, then the best presentation is only misleading.

But this was fascinating. My wife, who is not an academic in any sense, was captured by the presentation and came away understanding it quite well.

python March 8, 2007 at 10:49 am

A few thoughts on his presentation:

I forget the presenters exact words regarding Vietnam but he says something like 'improvement in life expectancy occurred after social change but before economic reform'. I'm not sure how he came to that conclusion. Unless he was basing "economic reform" solely on whether GDP was rising, which is obviously not a pre-requisite. Importation of medicines could have come due to trade, and that could be the driver for both longer life and later higher GDP. It's not clear, and I didn't appreciate his wording on it. Balls moving across a projection screen is not causality. :-)

Not once does he say what accounts for longer lifespans. It can't simply be money. You can't eat money, or rub money on your wounds, and you can't take it to cure your kidney problem.

The presenter quite clearly thinks that long life is good while many kids is bad. That's an interesting concept of "life". Is it better from a resource standpoint if you have 2 people living to 100 years old or 4 people living to 50? Isn't it the same amount of resources consumed, but yet the 50 year olds (if everything was equal) probably contribute more work to society – the 100 year olds stopping serious work at age 70. (Of course if people are dying at 50, maybe they are getting ill by age 45). Maybe that's a philosophical question.

In general I love data but I think he masks the reasons why the balls are moving around. Poorer countries who have adopted western life (economic freedom, medicine, communication technologies) are catching up. Those who haven't adopted are still floundering.

It is certainly thought provoking.

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