Spotlight TEDx Talk: Photos that show how income affects the way people live around the globe


Photos of families around the world, grouped by income (Credit: Anna Rosling Rönnlund, TEDxStockholm)

Designer Anna Rosling Rönnlund is obsessed with understanding how culture and income collide to affect how we live our domestic lives. At TEDxStockholm, she asks: If two families bring in the same amount of income, but live on opposite sides of the globes, how different (or alike) are their homes? Their routines? Their bedding? Their meals? How does the home life of a family in China differ from that of a family in Nigeria with the same amount of money to spend each month?

To find out, she and a team of photographers have visited the homes of 168 families in 37 countries around the globe to visually record their homes, habits and daily routine in a project they call Dollar Street.

“Every home [the photographers] visit, they spend about a day,” Rönnlund says. “They take all the snapshots [and] get a questionnaire filled out about the household and the family, and take video snapshots following the family in their daily activities.”

Rönnlund and her team tag each photo by income, so that they can create data visualizations using these photos to see how the world lives on specific incomes.

The photo below shows images from their collection of photos of walls, with the walls belonging to the families with the lowest incomes on the left and the highest on the right:

A visualizations of walls based on income. (Photo:  Anna Rosling Rönnlund, TEDxStockholm)

A visualization of walls based on income. (Photo: Anna Rosling Rönnlund, TEDxStockholm)

These photos reveal much about how the world lives, Rönnlund says, and can give us more complete data about income within countries and globally than pure numbers.

“We’ve heard many times that the U.S. is richer than China, and that is true when it comes to averages,” she says, “but the overlap [in incomes] is quite big. So the exciting part here is in using the Dollar Street framework is to start looking at [income] neighbors and comparing them.”

One can compare a high-income family in China with a high-income family in the U.S. or a low-income family in China and a low-income family in Nigeria, as seen below:


For more, watch Rönnlund’s whole talk below:

Insight from the TEDx office — why we like this talk:

The speaker presents an innovative project and a compelling idea — that we can understand culture and global income disparity better through visual documentation of domestic life worldwide — in a way that is clear, evidence-based and supported by striking visuals. She has experience as a designer, data analyst and photographer and uses that expertise to inform and support the project.


  1. Wonderful Tedx talk.

    Having lived outside of the United States of America for three years in a developing nation and interacting with the citizens & residents of that nation my only objection to Ms. Rosling’s talk was her last statement, “we can finally understand how other people live without traveling.”

    By traveling and interacting with the people who live in the places we travel too we gain additional insight in to the similarities of people at a given income level as well as at all income levels.

    The problem is that most travelers be they international travelers or domestic travelers become views/observers of people, in the places where they are traveling, rather than in some manner participating/engaging/interacting travelers.

    Note that the writer of this comment is the author of seven (7) bicycle tour guide books.

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