Using Pictures as Data–What Toilets Look Like Based on Income Around the World

Being a gardener in the Northeast United States means finding hope in pictures of luscious gardens in Australia while enduring long, cold winter months. As I peruse the latest harvests in Brisbane, Queensland, I’m not really thinking of pictures as anything more than something to see and enjoy. I was amazed to find out that someone, specifically Anna Rosling Rönnlund, is using pictures to collect data. In doing so, she has changed my view of the world.

To address misconceptions about global development and find easier ways to display data (absent of complex charts and graphs), Anna invented Dollar Street. She lines up families by income on a sliding scale ranging from the poorest to the richest. The entire range can be compared, or the scale can be modified to view specific ranges of interest (e.g. middle income). The data, displayed as pictures, can be filtered by geography (e.g. world, specific country) and item of interest. The most popular items of interest include: beds, floors, hands, pets, teeth, toilets and toys.

If you’re wondering why looking at pictures of toilets and toothbrushes around the world is important, take a moment to review the results of the Ignorance Survey. Respondents from four different countries, including the United States, took the ten-question quiz, and as hypothesized, grossly underestimated progress in the areas of vaccinations and extreme poverty. Almost half of the people taking the survey thought only 20% of the world’s one-year old children are vaccinated against measles when the correct response is more than 80%. Two-thirds of the participants thought extreme poverty has doubled in the last 20 years when the correct answer is that it has been reduced to almost half.

If you’re still wondering why it makes a difference to understand basic facts about global development, consider the impact of not knowing. In a world of globalization, business and politics are not confined to the borders of a country or even a continent. What happens in China, India or Russia can affect a manufacturing worker in the United States. Did you know that, right now, people in Venezuela are on the brink of starvation? If a news alert came across your phone stating the United States was planning an invasion of Venezuela, would you be educated enough to question why, or would you simply jump on the bandwagon of the most popular social media platform to join an anti-war or pro-war campaign?

While most of us probably don’t have the time or the interest to follow every global crisis, issue or observation, we can at least take a moment to audit our level of ignorance on how the rest of the world lives. If you are bored by newspaper articles or cut the cord on TV, take a minute to visit You won’t have to review complex charts or graphs because pictures provide all the data you need. It will change how you see the world.

©, March 7, 2018



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