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Kuznets Curve

Kuznets Curve

Author: Paul Hannan

Recognize how technology impacts social inequality. 

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain Kuznets Curve Creative Commons

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome In this episode of Sociology, Studies of Society. Today's lesson is on the Kuznets curve. As always, don't be afraid to pause, stop, rewind, or even fast forward, to make sure you get the most out of this tutorial.

So today I'm going to break down for you what the Kuznets curve is. So let's start by showing you what it is. So here's the curve. As you can see, this is a very basic representation of a graph, but either way, it works really well to explain what the Kuznets curve is looking at.

What the Kuznets curve is really proposing is this, that as societies advance, they start to experience increased inequality, then eventually it decreases through the process of industrialization. So let's go through it a little slower here, to really break down how it works.

So as you can see, on the far left here, when income per capita is really low and inequality is also very low, think about this here being really, really early societies, ones that are still hunter gatherers. There, they don't have a lot of wealth, but the inequality, the amount of difference between people there, is also pretty low.

So then as civilizations move forward and they start to develop technologies, they start to become farmers, inequality increases. And you can see that here where the line is now. There's more technology, so they're having a better lifestyle. There's more money, more wealth. But also, the amount of inequality is increasing.

And that really continues until you reach industrialization. The Kuznets curve argues that once a society reaches the industrial revolution, once they start to industrialize, what's going to happen is you're going to see inequality start to come back down again. And the Kuznets curve is backed up by many-- what we've seen in many societies here in the world.

The United States of America started very, very before it was actually United States of America. Hunter gatherers-- pretty much an equal society, with a lot of the Native American tribes. As farming came about, as it became an agricultural-based society, inequality really increased. Then we had the industrial revolution, and you saw inequality start to decrease.

Now, there's some that argue that the Kuznets curve is a little out of date, because what we're seeing now in this post-modern world is, we're actually seeing an increase of inequality again. Now, this isn't true for all societies or across all situations, but that's kind of one of the criticisms that this curve doesn't really-- it really explains what's happened in the past. It doesn't really explain very well what's going to continue to happen in the future.

But that's the curve and the theory for you right there. So today, we just looked at the Kuznets curve, and that's just saying that as societies advance, they start to experience increased inequality. Then eventually, it decreases through the process of industrialization. Well, that's it for this lesson. Good work, and hopefully you'll be seeing me on your screen again soon. Peace.

Terms to Know
Kuznets Curve

A graphical representation of the idea that as societies advance in technological sophistication, they at first become more unequal before later reaching industrial society, which tends to lessen the inequality that had been built up.