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Where are you on the global pay scale?
April 3, 2012 10:20 AM   Subscribe

Where are you on the global pay scale? A nice calculator that shows how your monthly salary compares to the average for your country and for the world. But before drawing too many sweeping conclusions, check out the notes that explain how the numbers are calculated, and the difficulties with trying to calculate any such thing.

If you want to know more, there is a 10-minute podcast that goes over the same ground, and the International Labor Organization (ILO) which conducted the study provides many statistics on global wages, employment and more.

It's important to bear in mind that this calculator is only about people in employment, and it doesn't include the self-employed, the unemployed, the retired etc. In developing countries a much smaller proportion of the population works in the so-called "formal sector" of the economy where they can be counted like this. So for example the data doesn't tell us much about the life of the average person in India, but maybe does indicate something about what we might think of as the life of an average "middle class" person in India.

Also important is that the concept of "average" can be misleading in a situation where a small proportion of people earn very high salaries. That means that what is normally called "the average" will be more than the majority of people actually earn. This readable explanation of the math goes over the reasons for this, while the Daily Kos discusses ways to approximate median incomes which might be a more useful indicator for many purposes, not least getting an idea of where you stand compared to most other people in your country.

See also:

Just what is a big salary?
UK Personal income by tax year (Official data from HM Revenue and Customs)
US Income, Expenditures, Poverty, & Wealth (Official data from US Census Bureau)
The Informal Sector in India (PDF)) (Indian Ministry of Labour)
posted by philipy (55 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
So, this gives me an average to compare myself against, while simultaneously noting that an average is not a useful number? What's the purpose?
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:23 AM on April 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Your wage is $368. The world average is $1,480.
Your wage is 12% of the United Kingdom average and 25% of the world average.


Weeeep
posted by dng at 10:26 AM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am a billionaire in Tajikistan.
posted by stargell at 10:38 AM on April 3, 2012


I've always felt the rest of us needed a scoreboard like the Forbes' 100 provides for the the super rich.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:41 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, this gives me an average to compare myself against, while simultaneously noting that an average is not a useful number? What's the purpose?

To find out the available information, while being intellectually honest and skeptical about how much we can really know?
posted by John Cohen at 10:42 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


So apparently the BBC haven't heard that the country I live has beem a member of the Eurozone for well over a year now. Or maybe they know more than I do, maybe it's all been a big fat lie?
posted by daniel_charms at 10:43 AM on April 3, 2012


Man, I don't feel as wealthy as I apparently am. Should I blame the baby boomers?
posted by dobie at 10:43 AM on April 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


The ILO have successfully motivated me to fight against labor unions.
posted by DU at 10:50 AM on April 3, 2012


Man, I don't feel as wealthy as I apparently am. Should I blame the baby boomers?

Yeah, for being above the US average I don't exactly feel rich.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 10:53 AM on April 3, 2012


This is very interesting, it's crazy how much more money we have compared to the rest of the world. I am reminded of something I once read:
"If you evenly divide the planet's weath, we eachget a cuple thousand dollars. We have more than that because all the people in poor countries have about five cents. oh, but don't feel bad, they live thousands of miles away and you will never have to meet them."
posted by Vindaloo at 10:54 AM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


And once again my keyboard fails at spelling.
posted by Vindaloo at 10:54 AM on April 3, 2012


Nice post philipy, that link to India's informal sector is valid as 92% of the 'employed' are NOT in the formal sector.

I myself am among that disproportionately larger segment of the world's population on an irregular income stream and couldn't tell you what I earn in any given month or week.
posted by infini at 10:54 AM on April 3, 2012


Your wage is 0% of the United States average and 0% of the world average.

Housewives of the world, unite!
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:00 AM on April 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


Man, I don't feel as wealthy as I apparently am.

This calculator forces us to look at where we stand relative to the world in a relatively objective way. This requires a conscious shift in attitude, since people don't usually go around thinking in those terms. What's more likely is that your view of how wealthy you are is very localized, and that even within your area (city, state, or country), you're looking mostly at people who are fairly similar to you. If you're making, say, $50,000 a year, your idea of "what other people make" is probably largely based on people who make close to $50,000 or a bit more, rather than destitute people or millionaires/billionaires. We naturally focus on our immediate surroundings and our direct rivals.
posted by John Cohen at 11:01 AM on April 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


We naturally focus on our immediate surroundings and our direct rivals.

Ideally so we can kill them and eat their young.
posted by elizardbits at 11:01 AM on April 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


I am reminded of something I once read: "If you evenly divide the planet's weath, we eachget a cuple thousand dollars. We have more than that because all the people in poor countries have about five cents. oh, but don't feel bad, they live thousands of miles away and you will never have to meet them."

That isn't really why we (i.e. Americans and other Westerners) have more. Income is not a fixed-sum game. It sounds like you feel kind of guilty for being wealthier than other people. Good news: this is easily rectified! However, if you decide not to remedy this regrettable situation, I suggest learning to live with your good fortune. Please feel free to pass this advice on to whoever initially wrote the passage that you quoted.
posted by Edgewise at 11:09 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow. I'm actually a bit surprised by how far below the US average I was, and by how little above the world average I was.

Damn, the recession has skewed my perceptions, because I thought that I was doing fairly decently by American standards, and living like a king by world standards.
posted by schmod at 11:12 AM on April 3, 2012


I'm at 60% of the world average, which is sobering, and 30% of the US average, which is still (barely) more than the official 2011 poverty line for a household of 1. I'm not counting the freelance income, half again as much, that allows me to even function; if I tried to actually live on just my (roughly - hours vary) $988 a month I think I'd be homeless and/or dead in short order and my monthly expenses are not high. I guess that means that the poverty line is 25% of the average. That average, I think, is skewed as hell by the 1%.

Oh and schmod, the Onion explains the recession skew nicely.
posted by mygothlaundry at 11:17 AM on April 3, 2012




Edgewise: No, I don't feel guilty at all. And I am not silly enough to take the comment I quoted literally. However it does have a ring of truth to it when you study the way that western governments and corporations can abuse poor countries and their populations to ensure that our standard of living stays high, at the expense of theirs.
posted by Vindaloo at 11:20 AM on April 3, 2012



Man, I don't feel as wealthy as I apparently am.


It absolutely fails to take into consideration quality of life or cost of living. In places with controlled rent and social programs you can live for considerably less than say for example, a certain country that drops the burden of medical bills onto the consumers.

Similarly, in a Canadian context we've got Vancouver where you can buy a slummy 200 square foot condo for half a million right beside small town Manitoba where you could probably by a new house on a hundred acres for the same.

And that doesn't even begin to consider the global scale.

I don't think that criticisms of the way that this data is displayed could possibly be expressed enough.
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:21 AM on April 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


It absolutely fails to take into consideration quality of life or cost of living.

The wages are being reported as their purchasing power parity (PPP), so they have taken into account the cost of living. In the linked article, this is explained very clearly, as they pointed out that someone in China earning $200 USD could purchase goods and services which would cost $400 USD in the US, so that wage is considered to be $400 PPP.
posted by jb at 11:26 AM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


But no, it may not reflect differences of costs within countries (such as your example regarding housing in Vancouver). But it would reflect an average Canadian cost of living.

(And we Canadians in Toronto and Vancouver should remember that, while we have been shafted on the cost of housing, we have more services and less travel than all rural Canadians and pay a lot less for the basic necessities of life than anyone in remote areas).
posted by jb at 11:28 AM on April 3, 2012


Stagger Lee, it looks like they take that into account on a macro level (on preview, what jb said):
But these dollars are not normal US dollars. The economists use specially adjusted exchange rates - the average salary is calculated in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) dollars. One PPP dollar is equal to $1 spent in the US.

Essentially, the PPP dollar takes into account the fact that it is cheaper to live in some countries than others. The idea is that we don't care how many actual dollars somebody is paid in, say, China, but we care about what sort of stuff those dollars can buy.
Certainly the micro level has got to be harder to assess -- cost of living is pretty heterogeneous (consider city vs. exurbs), and there are all these trade-offs between things like where you live, where you work, where you buy stuff, and how much you have to spend on transportation to get to all those places. But this is an interesting first pass, I think.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:29 AM on April 3, 2012


Your wage is $600. The world average is $1,480.
Your wage is 18% of the United States average and 41% of the world average.


Well, I've been sufficiently demotivated for the day.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 11:32 AM on April 3, 2012


jb, thanks for the reply regarding PPP. It DOES take COL into account and it IS standardised.

My hunch is that those who "don't feel rich" had rich (which is to say upper middle class or better, which is to say the vast majority of the cultural-capital silver spooners on MeFi) parents and compared to Daddy's 200k/year salary, your 80k/year, when you're, what, 29? It just doesn't feel rich.

You're rich.

My dad was an assembly line worker who never made more than $20,000 (yes, with seven kids- helps when five drop out of high school so you don't have to worry about college tuition). I'm absolutely, incredibly rich.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 11:58 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


The wages are being reported as their purchasing power parity (PPP), so they have taken into account the cost of living. In the linked article, this is explained very clearly, as they pointed out that someone in China earning $200 USD could purchase goods and services which would cost $400 USD in the US, so that wage is considered to be $400 PPP.

But they aren't taking other quality of living factors like state sponsored health care, state funded vacations, or stipends for school clothes into account are they? Those things add up a lot. Since the US has none of those benefits that most modern European nations enjoy, I think these comparisons are still skewed to make American's look much better off than they actually are.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:05 PM on April 3, 2012


It's important to bear in mind that this calculator is only about people in employment, and it doesn't include the self-employed, the unemployed, the retired etc.

It also seems important to suggest that being obsessed with the idea that "life is a game, and money is how you keep score" might be an impoverished way to live.
posted by LeLiLo at 12:07 PM on April 3, 2012


But they aren't taking other quality of living factors like state sponsored health care, state funded vacations, or stipends for school clothes into account are they? Those things add up a lot. Since the US has none of those benefits that most modern European nations enjoy, I think these comparisons are still skewed to make American's look much better off than they actually are.

On the other hand, they ask for the pretax income. Believe me, if you had to pay Swedish taxes, you wouldn't be feeling that wealthy...
posted by Skeptic at 12:09 PM on April 3, 2012


Goddamit I am so close to the UK average if I could only get a half decent payrise this y-

Uh, I mean - whatever, I have really good job satisfaction, and I barely care about money. Yep.
posted by ominous_paws at 12:36 PM on April 3, 2012


The average wage in Ireland is higher than in Canada? Germany's is lower? Wow.
posted by bonobothegreat at 12:50 PM on April 3, 2012


On the other hand, they ask for the pretax income. Believe me, if you had to pay Swedish taxes, you wouldn't be feeling that wealthy...

I hope someone from Sweden comes along and lets you know. As for me, I'm in France and paid an IT engineer's wage, about 1/3rd-career. Just for fun, I tried both pre-tax:
Your wage is 99% of the France average and 194% of the world average.

And post-tax (employer taxes, income tax, inhabitant tax, and homeowner tax - those all include health care, social services, funds for roads, public transportation, etc. etc. so this is in fact my disposable income):
Your wage is 75% of the France average and 147% of the world average.

I feel rich. And healthy. And well-fed. Don't have to worry about gas either, since I don't have a car, what with the bus that picks me up a few yards from my apartment and drops me 45 minutes (30 miles) later a few yards in front of the office, and other buses and trams that use my same 50-cent/day unlimited card.

SOCIALISM. IT MAKES YOU... um. Social.
posted by fraula at 12:50 PM on April 3, 2012 [9 favorites]


But they aren't taking other quality of living factors like state sponsored health care, state funded vacations, or stipends for school clothes into account are they? Those things add up a lot. Since the US has none of those benefits that most modern European nations enjoy, I think these comparisons are still skewed to make American's look much better off than they actually are.

I've seen "payment in kind" or "income in form of benefits" figures in places, so I don't think it would be too hard to factor that in if you could gather the right data.
posted by Jehan at 1:10 PM on April 3, 2012


SOCIALISM. IT MAKES YOU... um. Social

fraula: When I was visiting my family in Germany for extended periods--even my mother's family which were considered very poor by German standards--I felt that way, too. The focus of life seemed to be so much more on living and developing/maintaining social relations than it is in the US. It was nice.

posted by saulgoodman at 1:13 PM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


No, I don't feel guilty at all. And I am not silly enough to take the comment I quoted literally. However it does have a ring of truth to it when you study the way that western governments and corporations can abuse poor countries and their populations to ensure that our standard of living stays high, at the expense of theirs.

OK, I can largely agree with this. I incorrectly believed that you fully agreed with the quote in question.
posted by Edgewise at 1:20 PM on April 3, 2012


Using means for something like this is well stupid. The idea that I am only earning a little bit more than 150% of the world average, and significantly under the UK average, is flat-out ridiculous. I'm not rolling in it, but I live in one of the most expensive cities in the world, regularly shop at Waitrose and own an iPod touch. I don't always manage my money fantastically well and have been hit by rising food prices, but even given that I have no debt apart from the tenner I owe my friend for curry. I'm pretty sure all the guilt I feel about being so goddammed comfortable isn't coming out of nowhere.
posted by Acheman at 1:34 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


The PPP correction is what makes this ridiculous. Especially in this more international age.

I make the same as someone in poor country X when PPP is taken into account. Ok. Can they afford an Ipod? Can they hop on a plane and fly halfway around the world? Do they have access to many imported goods and services? If they have to compete with me for a scarce global resource, which one of us will be able to pay more?

Because I bet PPP doesn't take those into account.

Add to the fact that this the fact that they state 1) They are just not including the poorest countries at all and 2) They only include wage-earners in that country so lets forget about unemployment rates when I compare myself to an "average" citizen in country X.

Take all that account and you have something which radically skews how much more we have than many other countries. It makes it seem as if we dont have all that much more, which is very wrong.
posted by vacapinta at 1:47 PM on April 3, 2012


I need to see one showing the average wage of the McGill Class of 1995.
posted by Flashman at 2:20 PM on April 3, 2012


Like everything in Australia, pegged to something or other in Singapore
posted by mattoxic at 2:45 PM on April 3, 2012


I make the same as someone in poor country X when PPP is taken into account. Ok. Can they afford an Ipod? Can they hop on a plane and fly halfway around the world? Do they have access to many imported goods and services? If they have to compete with me for a scarce global resource, which one of us will be able to pay more?

Because I bet PPP doesn't take those into account.


Actually, that's exactly what PPP takes into account, but since its an average over a standard basket of goods and services, there will be somethings that the resident of Kublickistania will have a relatively easier time buying (food, maybe, or accommodation) and somethings that will be relatively harder (like an iPod). But don't be so sure of yourself on the latter: plane tickets, for instance show surprising variation in cost, considering how inflexible the main inputs (planes, fuel) are.

What PPP, and this comparison, does not take into account is taxation (I was surprised they asked for pre-tax) and some public services (have a public health care system vs. the expensive mess of the US, for instance). I'm guessing that Fraula's very cheap transit probably makes it into a PPP analysis, but I'm not sure.
posted by bumpkin at 2:54 PM on April 3, 2012


Seems I'm doing okay. But fuck Luxembourg, man. Seriously.
posted by Decani at 2:55 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Speaking also of Australia, conversion to ppp reduces my A$ salary by ~35%.

/looks at inexplicable mark up for most consumer electronics in Australia..

Seems like an underestimation if anything.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 2:57 PM on April 3, 2012


Average numbers are OK and it's cool to compare worldwide. But averages are skewed by people at the top and the bottom, so the distribution tells a more complete story. I found New York Times interactive feature What Percent Are You? more informative than BBC's global pay scale.
posted by Triplanetary at 3:09 PM on April 3, 2012


That what Percent are you is super depressing - because of the large number of households making less than what my SO and I made when we were both working part-time. We knew we weren't making enough to live on, but we had made that choice (and had moved in with some family), but some 25% of American households make less -- I doubt they were doing so to further their education like we were.

That said, having "bottom 25%" and "top 25%" is confusing. But I guess people don't understand percentiles? It would seem much easier to say that "you are at the 25th percentile" (meaning that 25% of people have a lower household income).
posted by jb at 3:35 PM on April 3, 2012


also - I like the "What Percent are You" because it talks about household income, but it's not more informative if you are not American.
posted by jb at 3:36 PM on April 3, 2012


I looked at this the other day and found it essentially meaningless. It really doesn't matter what you earn as long as your needs are taken care of.
posted by arcticseal at 4:09 PM on April 3, 2012


Guys, they are asking for pre-tax income because government tax revenues fund services that its citizens consume. This is in order to take state provided services into account (healthcare, infrastructure, etc) when looking at standard of living - to make it equivalent, for say, a person in a place with high taxes but state provided medical care to be compared to somewhere with low taxes but privately funded healthcare.
posted by xdvesper at 4:20 PM on April 3, 2012


The "What Percentage are you" is interesting, but only if you are American, and comparing against other Americans. The interesting thing about the global pay scale is, while fast and dirty, it is also global. It reveals some things, but a couple of numbers can only show you so much.

For those in the UK Where do you fit in from the IFS is more nuanced, but asks more questions to get to the answer. Obviously.
posted by cluck at 4:21 PM on April 3, 2012


Yeah, I fall into the "the chart says I'm super rich but I just feel average" camp. I think one thing to consider regarding developed vs. underdeveloped is credit. I know next to nothing about this (so if someone does, I'd love to hear more!) but I have heard that most countries don't push credit cards the way North America does. In some places, you can't even get a credit card.

So I believe what this means is that in places where credit cards are used, people are able to spend way more than they earn in a year, inflating prices. People who try to live within their means are competing in the marketplace against people who live well beyond their means. It causes distortions and waste, and I think we need to take a hard look at our reliance on credit before we completely screw ourselves.
posted by mantecol at 6:56 PM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


So I believe what this means is that in places where credit cards are used, people are able to spend way more than they earn in a year, inflating prices. People who try to live within their means are competing in the marketplace against people who live well beyond their means.

Yes! I think that's exactly right. And I've long argued it's one of our biggest systemic problems. Our parents (well, grandparents at least, even though they were relatively poor) bought their first house/acres of property outright in cash. Now, that kind of spending power seems like an unthinkable luxury. Whether it's by design or accident, we've gradually been roped back into a new version of the old Truck (or Company Store) System in the US, only on a much larger scale--meaning, at the level of how our society is organized, rather than at the level of an individual employment arrangement.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:53 PM on April 3, 2012


Your wage is $8,750. The world average is $1,480.
Your wage is 268% of the United States average and 591% of the world average.
Holy crap. Perspective...
posted by ChrisR at 10:44 PM on April 3, 2012


Is the Geometric Mean actually a better indicator of the average in measuring these sorts of things?
posted by mary8nne at 3:26 AM on April 4, 2012


Okay, so from the posts here I'm now learning that I can go on MetaFilter to find really poor people.

I'm right at the $50k mark and I feel comfortable. I never really have to make the "this or that" decisions that others face. But finances are still tight. It doesn't help that over $10k/year goes towards health insurance costs.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:31 AM on April 4, 2012


The best part of something like this is perspective.

The other day I was listening to a radio program that pointed out that the salaries of British MPs were greater than 92% of the British population -- and this was comparing a household with only the MP salary to average household incomes. With expenses, MPs and their households have more money to live on than 98% of British households.

But few MPS appear to be aware of how very privileged they are. After all, they associate with people who are paid much, much more in the private sector.

My SO always likes to talk about the moment when he go his perspective: the first time he visited a public housing unit in Toronto (c1998). He had never realized that there were people in Canada who lived in such bad conditions (in his perspective). It just had never occurred to him. And he always viewed his family as "middle class" when their household income is in the 90th percentile or higher.

We have some relatives who we think would benefit from having to live in public housing for a week or so -- or even just a medium priced rental unit. They truly have no idea of how average and poorer people live.
posted by jb at 11:48 AM on April 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


The best part of something like this is perspective.

Perspective is a valuable thing, and something like this, however rough-and-ready it has to be, is very useful for providing that.

We're not naturally wired to be able to make sense of things on these scales. A human being's intuition tends to just assume that whatever they see day-to-day is a pretty typical sample of the world. It's hard for example to get the idea that although you personally never meet people that don't have a computer, there are in fact lots of people that don't.

I had a friend who grew up in a wealthy family in Ghana. He never remotely realized how poor most people in Ghana actually were until he came to live in the UK and saw a documentary about it. Since then he has done great work setting up a charity that gives street kids a place to live, education and vocational training.
posted by philipy at 10:08 AM on April 5, 2012


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