A recent post in Charlie Stross’s series on misconceptions about publishing (more on which anon, hopefully), has an interesting side-note:
Interestingly, the researchers went on to calculate a Gini coefficient for authors’ incomes … The Gini coefficient among writers in the UK in 2004-05 was a whopping great 0.74.
I felt you could make a dramatic comparison from that, so I went to check the figures. The surprising thing is, though, Gini coefficients that high just don’t usually exist on a national level – there’s only one or two countries where we have the data to reasonably conclude it’s as high as 0.7. (Namibia, if you’re wondering). The reason for this is that rural hinterlands tend to reduce the effect of the inequalities of the cities (which are, obviously, where you find both the urban shantytowns and the wealthy metropolitan elite).
Are there, then, specific cities where it’s this bad? Yes. Again, just. The worst cities in the world, by inequality, are the major metropolises of South Africa; even there, it peaks at about 0.75. So, visualise it that way for a second: the population of people in the UK who are paid to write, full-time or part-time, has a level of economic inequality on a par with that of the population of Johannesburg.
It’s quite a staggering image, really. You realise it’s a very sharp differential, but you don’t realise it’s that steep!