Seeing How People Really Live around the World


What does it look like when someone in Sweden brushes their teeth or when someone in Rwanda makes their bed?

The TED Talk above, by Anna Rosling Rönnlund, features images collected by photographers dispatched to 264 different homes in 50 countries around the world. They document the stoves, bed, toilets, toys, and other households items owned by families in a range of income levels. Viewers can compare how families live in Latvia or Burundi or Nepal as Rönnlund explains the power of data visualization to help us better understand the world.

“People in other cultures are often portrayed as scary or exotic,” she explains. “This has to change. We want to show how people really live. It seemed natural to use photos as data so people can see for themselves what life looks like on different income levels.” The comparisons point out that while income differences often create very different lifestyles within particular countries, geography and culture per se separate human beings less than is generally believed.   

Rönnlund is continuing the work of her famous father-in-law, Hans Rosling, with whom she co-founded (along with husband Ola Rosling) the nonprofit Gapminder Foundation. Hans Rosling sadly passed away last year, but his legacy continues to inform and inspire people around the world. The family’s work with statistics and creative data visualization looks poised to continue shining a light on how the world really works long into the future.

Thanks to my colleague Iain Murray for passing along this great video. You can read his take on wealth, inequality, and opportunity in the studies (with Ryan Young) People, Not Ratios and The Rising Tide.