nation: Singapore

The Paris School of Economics has posted a database, compiled by Facundo Alvaredo, Tony Atkinson, Thomas Piketty, and Emmanuel Saez, of the distribution of top incomes in a number of nations, with more on the way. Using income tax records, they provide a quick glance at concentration of income among the wealthy over decades (and in some cases, data extends back over a century). As the authors point out, there are limitations to using tax info to measure inequality, so it’s important to be aware of the limitations of this data series. Most obviously, individuals may take steps to hide their income to evade taxes, and the very wealthy may be particularly able to do so through the use of tax havens, etc. Also, tax policies change, so what counts as “income” at one point might not at another. The authors also had to contend with differences in the taxation unit (households vs. individuals) in different countries to provide some level of comparability.

The database allows you to select a country, a time period, and a variable (top 5% income share, etc.), and get a table showing the results for all years in which data were available. Here, for instance, is part of the table for the share of income earned by the top 1% in Singapore:

Of course, this includes only data on income. In many countries, including the U.S., wealth (value of all assets) is significantly more concentrated than income.

Looking at the dataset, you can see patterns over time. For instance, here’s part of the data from the U.S. (notice there are time gaps between the end of each column and the beginning of the next–I was just grabbing some illustrative screencaps), showing how the percent of income earned by the top 0.1% decreased significantly starting in the 1940s, but began creeping up again by the late 1980s and has grown since then:

The site also allows you to create graphs. They provide a comparison of the share of income earned by the top 1% in 2005 in the U.S., Japan, Australia, and France, but you can look at data for individual nations:

It’s worth playing around a bit, but keeping in mind the caveats about what these data do and don’t tell us. Thanks to Shamus Khan for the tip!

An infographic accompanying an article at the New York Times reveals how “advanced economies” compare on various measures of equality, well-being, educational attainment, and more.  To illustrate this, for each measure countries that rank well are coded tan, countries that rank poorly and very poorly are coded orange and red respectively, and countries that are in the middle are grey.  The countries are then ranked from best to worst overall, with Australia coming in #1 and the United States coming in last.  You might be surprised how some of these countries measure up.

Thanks to Dmitriy T.M. for the link.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

I’m back! I was in the middle of moving and just overwhelmed with everything. Anyway. Talking Points Memo posted a link to an article at Slate about income inequality in the U.S., and particularly the increasing proportion of total U.S. income earned by the very rich. Timothy Noah refers to the “great compression” as a time period when income concentration among top earners dropped significantly, and argues that in the past three decades we’ve seen a “great divergence,” with increasing income inequality hitting levels not seen since the Great Depression:

A slideshow accompanies the article, providing more info on the changes Noah discusses. A few examples (the slideshow provides the data source used to create each image):

Even among the very rich, we see increasing divergence, with the super-ultra rich, the top 0.1% of earners, now making 8% of all U.S. income:

A comparison to some other countries (I don’t know why these specific nations were chosen for the comparison):

Keep in mind, this data includes only income. Wealth — the worth of all assets, including retirement and savings accounts, stocks, homes, cars, and anything else of value — is much more unequally distributed.

Congress is about to be embroiled in a major debate about whether to extend the tax cuts on high incomes; as both sides weigh in, here’s some context to keep in mind:

The effective tax rate is what people actually pay, as opposed to what their tax rate theoretically is. While we’ve certainly seen a large drop since the late ’70s, Noah argues that, compared to other economic changes, the effective tax rate hasn’t affected the rise in income inequality much. It plays a role, yes, but changing the tax rate on the very rich doesn’t affect the overall distribution of income a huge amount, in part because the effective rate, what people end up actually paying, generally ends up being smaller than what they theoretically owe based on the stated tax rate, once you take into account deductions, write-offs, loopholes, and so on.

So…happy post-Labor Day!

Sandra H. sent us a link to a story about a field of empty container ships parked off the coast of Singapore:

Simon Parry reports that the field includes about 12 percent of the world’s container ships.  More than “the U.S. and British navies combined,” he writes.

The idle ships are another visual indication of the worldwide economic downturn, alongside the images of Detroit’s decline, unsold cars, abandoned homes, and empty malls.


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

It’s always fun for me to have my own gastronomical assumptions revealed. Earlier we posted a cross-cultural example (soup for breakfast in South Korea) and historical examples (mmm aspic, 7-Up with milk, and prunes are for kids!).  On Shakesville, Deeky posted this photograph of ice cucumber-flavored Pepsi being sold in Japan:


UPDATE (June ’10)! In another flavor-shake-up, BoingBoing posted these Pringles from Singapore in Seaweed, Soft-Shell Crab, and Grilled Shrimp:


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Singapore Airlines  is known for its “Singapore girls.” Here is a video that shows lots of images of how pretty Asian women, there to serve others, have been used in their advertising (the creator of the video claims to be a Singapore girl):

Apparently the Singapore Girl is such a phenomenon, she’s a figure at Madame Tussaud’s:

I had no idea that when most people think of Singapore, they think of this “pretty, smiling…girl.”

Anyway, I think it’s an interesting example of the way non-White women are often portrayed as exotic (the Singapore girls have become a symbol of Singapore itself) and also of what sociologists refer to as emotion work. The Singapore girls aren’t there just to bring us drinks and make sure we’re buckled in; there’s there to make us feel pampered and to warm our hearts–to do the type of emotion work (constantly smiling, being extremely attentive, being at the passengers’ service and making it seem like a joy) that makes customers feel cared-for and special…and thus willing to pay high prices for those business seats. And clearly these women are part of the decor–pretty, polite, accommodating women for passengers to enjoy while they fly.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

Laura Agustin, author of Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets, and the Rescue Industry, asks us to be critical consumers of stories about sex trafficking, the moving of girls and women across national borders in order to force them into prostitution.  Without denying that sex trafficking occurs or suggesting that it is unproblematic, Agustin wants us to avoid completely erasing the possibility of women’s autonomy and self-determination.

About one news story on sex trafficking, she writes:

…[the] ‘undercover investigation’, one with live images, fails to prove its point about sex trafficking… reporters filmed men and women in a field, sometimes running, sometimes walking, sometimes talking together.

…I’m willing to believe that we’re looking at prostitution, maybe in an informal outdoor brothel. But what we’re shown cannot be called sex trafficking unless we hear from the women themselves whether they opted into this situation on any level at all. They aren’t in chains and no guns are pointed at them, although they might be coerced, frightened, loaded with debt or wishing they were anywhere else. But we don’t hear from them. I’m not blaming the reporters or police involved for not rushing up to ask them, but the fact is that their voices are absent.

There are lots of things we might find out about the fields near San Diego… [but] we don’t see evidence for the sex-trafficking story. Feeling titillated or disgusted ourselves does not prove anything about what we are looking at or about how the people actually involved felt.

Regarding a news clip, Agustin writes:

…a reporter dressed like a tourist strolls past women lined up on Singapore streets, commenting on their many nationalities and that ‘they seem to be doing it willingly’. But since he sees pimps everywhere he asks how we know whether they are victims of trafficking or not? His investigation consists of interviewing a single woman who… articulates clearly how her debt to travel turned out to be too big to pay off without selling sex. Then an embassy official says numbers of trafficked victims have gone up, without explaining what he means by ‘trafficked’ or how the embassy keeps track…

So here again, there could be bad stories, but we are shown no evidence of them. The women themselves, with the exception of one, are left in the background and treated like objects.

To recap, what Agustin is urging us to do is to refrain from excluding the possibility of women’s agency by definition. Why might a woman choose a dangerous, stigmatized, and likely unpleasant job? Well, many women enter prostitution “voluntarily” because of social structural conditions (e.g., they need to feed their children and prostitution is the most economically-rewarding work they can get). Assuming all women are forced by mean people, however, makes the social structural forces invisible. We don’t need mean pimps to force women into prostitution, our own social institutions do a pretty good job of it.

And, of course, we must also acknowledge the possibility that some women choose prostitution because they like the work. You might say, “Okay, fine, there may be some high-end prostitutions who like the work, but who could possibly like having sex with random guys for $20 in dirty bushes?” Well, if we decide that the fact that their job is shitty means that they are “coerced” in some way, we need to also ask about those people that “choose” other potentially shitty jobs like migrant farmwork, being a cashier, filing, working behind the counter at an airline (seriously, that must suck), factory work, and being a maid or janitor. There are lots of shitty jobs in the U.S. and world economy. Agustin simply wants us to give women involved in prostitution the same subject status as women and men doing other work.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.