Discover How "Rich" You Really Are: A Glimpse into Global Income and Charity

17 min read
13 Mar 2024

Recently, I hit the bustling streets of London to engage with everyday people about their views on charity, giving back, and where they thought they stood on the global income scale. The results were ... surprising! And the reactions? Even better.

The experience was eye-opening, not just for the participants, but for me as well. It was an opportunity to explore an often overlooked aspect of our lives — our income in relation to the rest of the world.

Many of us live within our own bubbles, rarely pausing to consider our financial standing on a global scale. Yet when we begin to peel back the layers of our perceived economic positions, comparing them to the reality of global income distribution, perspectives shift and casual conversations turn profound.

One particularly striking moment was when passersby found out what percentile of income earners they actually fell into (after first being asked to guess!) When people realised that someone with a seemingly modest income in London could be in the top 1.5% of income earners worldwide, they were nothing short of amazed — with some even thinking the calculator was malfunctioning!

And this journey wasn't just about numbers or statistics. It was about understanding that even everyday people have the capacity to contribute to global well-being — a realisation that many found both incredible and empowering.

As part of this pop doc, I also interviewed experts like Julian Jamison, a health economist, who helped us navigate the complexities of income distribution and its implications for charitable giving, and individuals like Habiba Banu, who has committed a significant part of her income to charity, based in part on similar realisations.

Our discussions revealed a common thread: the misconception that our individual contributions are too small to make a difference. Indeed, the video sheds light on how even modest donations can have a profound effect in low and middle-income countries, challenging us to rethink the way we view our ability to help.

As I reflect on the conversations and the lessons learned, it's clear that understanding our place in the global income scale isn't just an exercise in humility — it's a call to action. It's about recognising our shared responsibility to support those less fortunate and making informed decisions about how and where to donate.

This video is an invitation to join me in this ongoing conversation about income, charity, and the role each of us can play in making the world a better place. It's not about feeling guilty for what we have but about feeling empowered to use our resources wisely.

Thank you for taking the time to engage with these ideas. I hope you'll watch "You're richer than you realise" and share your thoughts and experiences with us. Together, we can begin to bridge the gap between our perceptions and the reality of global income distribution, one informed decision at a time.

Transcript for "You're richer than you realise"

(Due to the vox pop style of this video, we'd recommend watching it rather than reading the transcript. Captions are available on YouTube.)

Passerby 1 (00:01):

My God.

Grace (host and narrator) (00:02):

Do you think that people who are well off should be giving to charity?

Passerby 2 (00:07):

Everyone could. I probably could more than I do, which is not very much

Passerby 3 (00:11):

The top 30%

Grace (host and narrator) (00:12):

Is. So the top 30% should be giving to charity. Do you have a sense of how well off you might be compared to the rest of the world?

Passerby 4 (00:19):

The whole world?

Grace (host and narrator) (00:20):

Yeah the whole world. No, don't Google it. Just give me a guess. And then, because we're about to look it up.


So you think somewhere in the top half?

Passerby 1 (00:26):


Grace (host and narrator) (00:27):

Okay, well let's find out. We want to check your income there.

Passerby 3 (00:34):

Is this for the whole year? Yeah

Grace (host and narrator) (00:35):

Annual. Yeah.

Passerby 1 (00:37):


Grace (host and narrator) (00:37):

And then just press calculate. All right. Tilly,

Passerby 1 (00:42):

My God.

Grace (host and narrator) (00:45):

Today we are on the streets of London trying to interview some people about their giving, about charity and about how rich they really are compared to the rest of the world. Do you give to charity?

Passerby 6 (00:55):

I do.

Passerby 5 (00:55):

Not often, no

Passerby 3 (00:56):


Grace (host and narrator) (00:57):

People had a lot of different reasons for giving.

Passerby 3 (01:00):

I'm Muslim, so we do believe that is one of our moral obligations that we do have to give back

Passerby 6 (01:06):

I tend to do a lot of my giving in my local community,

Passerby 7 (01:09):

Build something that I can actually take back over to where I'm from.

Grace (host and narrator) (01:12):

Most people agreed that the well off should give.

Passerby 3 (01:15):

Well, of course,

Grace (host and narrator) (01:17):

But exactly what proportion of people should give was debated.

Passerby 4 (01:21):

I would like to say the top like 30%. I mean, I'm a primary school teacher. I'm a fairly low earner, but I am giving to charity every month.

Passerby 5 (01:30):

I don't think there's any one standard to say, okay, you come here, this is when you have to do

Grace (host and narrator) (01:34):

It. And people were pretty unsure about where they stacked up.

Passerby 3 (01:37):

What percentage I've fallen into. Yeah, the majority, which is not rich.

Grace (host and narrator) (01:43):

Do we think maybe top 20%, something like that?

Passerby 2 (01:46):


Grace (host and narrator) (01:47):

But here's the counterintuitive thing. On a global scale, most of us are much richer than we think

Passerby 4 (01:56):

Really? In the whole world?

Grace (host and narrator) (01:58):

Do you want to read that?

Passerby 4 (01:59):

You are in the richest 1.5% of the global population.

Grace (host and narrator) (02:03):

And that's mental. You're in the top richest 1%. You're still in the top 20%. At least the top 20%. You're in the richest. I'm

Passerby 3 (02:14):

So rich. I'm in the top 2.5%,

Grace (host and narrator) (02:18):

Top 15% richest people in the world. You're in the top richest 1.5% of the world. How do you feel about that?

Passerby 5 (02:26):

It's funny when you think about it in reality, you wouldn't think, I wouldn't think

Grace (host and narrator) (02:29):

That most people wouldn't. In fact, some people found it pretty hard to hear.

Passerby 3 (02:34):

Okay. I dunno how to feel about that. Does it have any problem, any calculator?

Grace (host and narrator) (02:41):

No. I mean, no, it's good. It works. The average person in the UK is really in the top richest few percent of the world.

Passerby 7 (02:48):

It's kind of funny when you think about how much argument there is about the 1%.

Passerby 4 (02:53):

That's crazy.

Grace (host and narrator) (02:55):

So what's going on here? We asked an economist for help, and why are you surprised?

Passerby 8 (03:02):

I don't see it. Because when you're fighting to do this and that and that, and then now you tell me I'm a rich man. Big surprise. Yeah.

Julian Jameson (03:13):

So he says, you're telling me I'm a rich man. Well, I don't know. It depends on your definition of rich. It doesn't mean you're rich in the sense that that person had previously been thinking of the word rich. It means maybe there's just classes of poor or relative poverty that they didn't understand.

Grace (host and narrator) (03:30):

This is Julian Jameson. He's a health economist. We made him do the calculator to

Julian Jameson (03:35):

Yep. So the top 1% sounds about right. You're not surprised. No, I'm not surprised. It would be a bad sign for me in my research career if I were too surprised by something like that.

Habiba Banu (03:46):

We know a bunch of these other people who seem to have very wealthy lives. The life that we've got, that can't be the pinnacle, right? There's got to be like 20% of other people who have more. And then it is quite shocking to be brought back to earth and be like, actually, really? No,

Grace (host and narrator) (04:04):

This is Habiba. She's made a pledge to give away a significant portion of her salary throughout her life.

Habiba Banu (04:10):

I gave away like 40% of my salary and I was still in the top 2% of the global population. So yeah, what am I feeling smug about?

Passerby 3 (04:21):

I don't really know what that number means. So what does it mean by top 1%?

Grace (host and narrator) (04:26):

If we looked at all of the people in the world and how much they're earning and what that really buys them, you're in the top 1% of all of those people in terms of the money and the resources that you have access to

Julian Jameson (04:40):

Tempted to say, oh, lining them up by income or wealth or what exactly are we trying to do here? But that's the annoying economist answer.

Passerby 3 (04:48):

I wouldn't say I'm the 1%. I still don't. Yeah, that's just interesting fact. I guess

Grace (host and narrator) (04:53):

Most people would have this kind of reaction. So why don't we know how rich we are?

Habiba Banu (04:59):

What you think of as a normal kind of standard to compare yourself to, can just be way out of sync with what's going on elsewhere.

Julian Jameson (05:08):

Sounds simple. There's a for this audience, but the differences between what life is in some parts of the world and what life is like for most of the people having these discussions is bigger than most people imagine they're seeing relative to their peers and their society. But those differences are kind of tiny compared to the biggest differences, which would be global.

Passerby 3 (05:34):

So I'd say probably grateful. Yeah, I think that's the word that I'm looking for. I'd probably say I'm grateful for being in that number,

Passerby 9 (05:43):

But it is very hard life

Julian Jameson (05:49):

And it's still a very hard life and that's why I do quantitative analysis, I suppose. I dunno how to interpret words like rich and hard life. And there isn't a right and wrong answer to any of that. The numbers are the numbers and people don't understand the numbers for the most part. And should the interpretation is a little bit more difficult that she have a hard life. I don't know. I wouldn't want to be the one to judge,

Passerby 9 (06:10):

But it's people worse than me. Very, very worth. If I could help, I would help.

Grace (host and narrator) (06:20):

Median household income is just above 32,000 pounds.

Passerby 4 (06:24):

So essentially most people in the UK are in that top cent of the wealthiest in the world. So essentially that means that England really, and most of the people living in it, have a responsibility to be helping and supporting less developed countries. Yeah. Interesting.

Grace (host and narrator) (06:45):


Passerby 4 (06:46):

We need to do better guys. Come on.

Habiba Banu (06:50):

Yeah. Why do people feel like they can't make a difference? It's very easy when you think about the world's problems to feel like these are the realm of something that's beyond you.

Grace (host and narrator) (07:01):

But there's also a bunch of counterintuitive stuff going on here too. Let's take an example of saving one life. How much does that actually cost?

Passerby 4 (07:11):

Oh, that's a hard question.

Passerby 10 (07:13):

100,000. I think a bit more than that.

Grace (host and narrator) (07:18):

There's a bunch of ways to think about this, but one useful reference point is how much governments are willing to spend to save a life of one citizen on average when choosing between different policies known as the value of statistical life.

Julian Jameson (07:32):

Value of statistical life in the global north is generally around 10 million US dollars. So often that's used for benefit cost analysis by government agencies.

Grace (host and narrator) (07:41):

In theory, this means that if you donated 10 million to the US government, you would avert one death on average.

Habiba Banu (07:48):

I mean, it's a huge amount of money. I was going to say that's what people's lives are worth, but that's not true. People's lives are worth more than that. We should burn up a star in order to save someone's life.

Grace (host and narrator) (07:59):

Some governments measure it per year of healthy life saved.

Julian Jameson (08:03):

It might be sort of 50,000 pounds per healthy life here saved

Grace (host and narrator) (08:07):

10 million per life, 50,000 pounds per year. However you want to measure it, you're probably never going to be able to donate that kind of money. But these figures are from rich countries. What about in other parts of the world? How much do you think it might cost to save someone's life? Overseas? Overseas? Oh, a lot

Passerby 4 (08:26):

More. Quite a bit more because the quality of life is not as good.

Grace (host and narrator) (08:31):

What have I told you? That you could save someone's life for less than 5,000 pounds.

Passerby 11 (08:40):

Okay. That is surprise.

Passerby 5 (08:44):

I'd like to see how it could be done. Do you know what I mean?

Grace (host and narrator) (08:47):

Do you want me to show you a graph? I actually have one.

Passerby 4 (08:49):

You're saying about 5,000 to save someone's life in malaria. The

Grace (host and narrator) (08:53):

Good folks at GiveWell ran the numbers, right? And they did. Yeah. This is what they, yeah, and this is what they found. If I had 5,000 pounds, I could do a little bit of good here in the uk or I could save someone's life overseas.

Passerby 4 (09:05):

Yeah. Why? That's really shocking. Why is it so much more?

Julian Jameson (09:10):

Partly because the low hanging fruit is still out.

Habiba Banu (09:14):

There are a bunch of diseases that are absolutely preventable. They're absolutely curable and they've absolutely been wiped out in high open countries.

Julian Jameson (09:21):

Malaria. So there was malaria in the US up until 1930s, but we've gotten rid of it and there's no leaded paint anymore. And then there's chlorine or flourine in the water. We've done all the basic things that we should be doing, but that hasn't happened yet in large parts of the world. And so there are these relatively simple things that we know how to do, whether it's bed nets or basic maternity care, oral rehydration salts or vitamin A supplementation. There are things that are extremely well known, extremely well verified empirically and really very inexpensive.

Grace (host and narrator) (09:55):

5,000 pounds is a lot, but it's not a crazy amount. I mean, if you gave 10% of your income for a year, you could probably save someone's life. 10% might be a lot. But it imagine if it was 1% a year for 10 years. Saving someone's life is still pretty good.

Passerby 6 (10:11):


It is. We've done something right

Grace (host and narrator) (10:14):

We could feel pretty good about that.

Habiba Banu (10:16):

If you had ever had the experience of seeing a building on fire and running in and saving a kid, that would be such a profoundly meaningful experience in your life. Maybe will feel like the pinnacle of the things that you have done with your time on earth. And you can have the same effect of saving a child's life just by donating something around like 5,000 pounds. It's kind of astonishing that that is possible to do.

Grace (host and narrator) (10:45):

But this doesn't mean donating to just any overseas charity. Charities vary a lot in how effective they are. And the ones that can save a life of 5,000 pounds are the ones at the very top of their field, though they're usually the ones that people haven't heard of.

Julian Jameson (11:00):

There's a huge distribution on how much it costs, and these are the most effective things, which are the most relevant ones? What we should putting the money. But it's not too surprising that people who don't read the literature on this aren't aware of what the most extreme end of that distribution looks like.

Grace (host and narrator) (11:12):

There are some charities that are just maybe a hundred times better than a random one.

Passerby 3 (11:17):

That's what do you mean financially

Grace (host and narrator) (11:18):

I mean creating more impact.

Habiba Banu (11:21):

It's very hard to measure goodness in the world. I don't think anyone has actually cracked that. But people have come up with fairly good ways of being able to compare how much good different kinds of interventions do in terms of their cost effectiveness.

Grace (host and narrator) (11:37):

And it's not just saving lives. Charity interventions of all kinds vary massively and how much good they can do per dollar spent.


So this is measured in terms of basically years of school provided or years of learning provided per hundred dollars. You could get 140 years of schooling with the best ones and with the median, you're getting less than one year of schooling for a hundred dollars. Wow. Does this change how you think about where you might donate?

Passerby 12 (12:10):

It does.

Habiba Banu (12:12):

Yeah. With your donations, you've got to pick where it goes. What do you make that decision based on? If you could make it on what seems most appealing to you, you could make it on helping the people closest to you or where you think that money is going to go furthest where you think it's going to help the most people. Considering everyone's life equally.

Passerby 4 (12:29):

Interestingly, I never really considered that before

Grace (host and narrator) (12:30):

The majority of donors don't even know that this kind of research exists. More research needs to be done and more charities need to provide more information. But as people increasingly start to ask these kinds of questions, we can build a clearer picture of which charities can actually do the most good.

Passerby 4 (12:51):

I definitely feel like I want to go out and help some more people and be more charitable.

Grace (host and narrator) (12:56):

Absolutely. So can ordinary people really make a difference?

Habiba Banu (13:01):

I don't think that it is up to all the people in this video or just random people on the street to sort of solve global problems by themselves. But still just because we need to do this other stuff as well. Just because politicians need to make the right decisions. And just because companies need to behave more ethically, that doesn't mean that individual giving isn't part of the solution as well. It doesn't mean that we are all off the hook and can carry on living our lives in the 1% as if we weren't.

Julian Jameson (13:26):

And maybe one of the key things from this is that giving doesn't have to mean giving locally. It can mean giving internationally in effective ways. And I think that that maybe doesn't have quite the emotional backing, but it still has a lot of emotional power to see the outcomes of that and create positive vibes all around, which is what we want.

Passerby 7 (13:49):

The little we could give could mean the world to someone

Passerby 11 (13:51):

Else. Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

Passerby 5 (13:54):

You got your own problems in your head. You're walking around. Sometimes you just have to sit back and think, okay, I probably do have the money to do something.

Julian Jameson (14:02):

Almost everybody can probably donate a little bit more than they are, including me.

Passerby 4 (14:08):

Yeah, my eyes have been opened. I'm going to go and spread the word,

Julian Jameson (14:13):

But also because I think it makes people feel better.

Habiba Banu (14:14):

It's a really meaningful and profound thing for me, and I feel, I feel very happy about doing it. No, absolutely no regrets.

Passerby 5 (14:23):

It does make you sit down and say, I wonder if I should.

Habiba Banu (15:04):

Yeah. I mean, it may be a bit corny, but to me, I do really feel like the meaning of life is helping other people. I think I should say that with more of a straight face. I do genuinely believe this.