I’m obsessed with a website called Dollar Street. Created by Factfulness co-author Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Dollar Street imagines a world where everyone lives on the same street and the houses are ordered by income. The poorest live on one end, and the richest live on the other end.
Income can often tell you more about how people live than location can. Whenever I visit a new place, I look for clues about which income level local families live on. Are there power lines? What kind of roofs do the houses have? Are people riding bikes or walking from place to place?
The answers to these questions tell me a lot about the people there. If I see power lines, I know homes probably have electricity in this area—which means that kids have enough light to do their homework after the sun sets. If I see patchwork roofs, families likely sleep less during the rainy season because they’re wet and cold. If I see bikes, that tells me people don’t have to spend hours walking to get water every day.
The significance of income level is brilliantly illustrated by Dollar Street. Anna sent photographers to profile hundreds of homes from countries all over the world. You can sort these homes by income, location, or even household object (so for example you can have it show you just beds, or dish soap, or cooking utensils). Each house is meticulously tagged and includes a biography of the family that lives there. You can explore 135 objects belonging to each family, from their front door to the shoes they wear. The user interference is simple and intuitive to use.
Dollar Street really comes alive when you start comparing objects. I found the photos of toothbrushes to be particularly interesting. The families at the poorest end of the street use their fingers or sticks to clean their teeth. But once you reach a certain income level, everyone starts using a plastic toothbrush with bristles.
The more time you spend on Dollar Street, the clearer it becomes that all of us have the same basic wants and needs. People tend to spend money on the same things once they increase their income whether they live in China or Cameroon. At the end of the day, we all want a solid roof over our head, a more efficient way to get around, and better tools to take care of ourselves. It’s a beautiful reminder that we have more in common with people on the other side of the world than we think.
Anna and her team at Gapminder have managed to capture the most complete picture of humanity I’ve seen yet. I could spend hours exploring Dollar Street, and I hope you check it out.