Cross National Comparison Research Task

Below is a task students of A-level sociology can usefully do to give them a feel for doing Cross National Research.

The main aim of this research task is to illustrate some of the strengths and limitations of doing cross national comparisons.

Select any one of the questions below and use the resources nuder the relevant headings below to explore these questions

  1. Why are some countries richer than others?
  2. Why do some countries have higher levels of gender equality than others?
  3. Why do some countries perform better in the PISA tests than others?
  4. Why are some countries happier than others?
  5. Why are some countries more peaceful than others?

Why are some countries richer than others?

This is a list of countries by Gross National Income per Capita, provided by the World Bank. The countries should appear listed in order.

Look at the top 10 countries, the bottom 10 countries, and look at ten in the middle.

NB you may need to screen out certain odd countries (such as those which are Islands with very small populations for example!)

Using your own knowledge, and further research on these countries if necessary, try to find out if any of the above three groups (top 10, middle 10, bottom 10) have anything in common.

Can you come up with theory for why rich countries are rich and poor countries are poor?

Why do some countries have higher levels of gender equality than others?

This link will take you the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, 2020.

Look at the top 10 countries, the bottom 10 countries, and look at ten in the middle.

NB you may need to screen out certain odd countries (such as those which are Islands with very small populations for example!)

Using your own knowledge, and further research on these countries if necessary, try to find out if any of the above three groups (top 10, middle 10, bottom 10) have anything in common.

Can you come up with theory for why some countries are more gender equal than others?

Why do some countries perform better in the PISA tests than others?

The Programme for International Student Assessment assess students from dozens of countries in their ability in maths, reading and science. All students do the same test and so we get national league tables as a result.

This is the hub page for the 2018 PISA results (results are only released every four years). Have a look at the countries at the top of the league tables compared to those at the bottom – can you think of a theory for why students in some countries do better than students others?

Why are some countries happier than others?

This is a link to the World Happiness Report.

Can you think of a theory for why people in some countries report higher levels of happiness than people in others?

Why are some countries more peaceful than others?

The Gobal Peace Index uses around 30 indicators to measure how peaceful countries are and reports every year.This is a link to the 2020 Peacefulness results.

Can you think of a theory which explains why countries such as Iceland are at the top, which countries such as Afghanistan are at the bottom?

Try to think of why some countries might be more prone to war and conflict than others.

Please click here to return to the main ReviseSociology home page!

The Spirit Level – A Summary

The-Spirit-LevelThe Spirit Level – Why more equal societies almost always do better – Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett

This book is relevant to both the module on Crime and Deviance and Theory Methods

Based on thirty years of research – Its findings are that almost every modern social and environmental problem is moire likely to occur in a less equal society (where the difference between rich and poor is greater). This is one of the most important areas of social and political research – the issue of inequality goes to the heart of the political divide between left and right.

Wilkinson and Pickett use a wealth of statistical data to compare inequality in several European countries (the research mainly focuses on Europe with a few other countries thrown in too) and the reserachers use different measurements of inequality to increase valdity. The main section of the book outlines the ‘costs of inequality’ in which the authors show that greater levels of inequality are positively correlated with higher rates of ill- health, lack of community life, violence, drug problems, obesity, mental health problems, long working hours and big prison populations. The final section, which I haven’t read yet, goes on to suggest some policy solutions.

Check out this video for a humorous overview of the book –

The book has its supporters -see  http://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/resources/slides – where you can download slides of the book as an education tool to help spread the word about the ills that inequality ’causes’

Also see http://unrepentantcommunist.blogspot.com/2009/06/spirit-level-by-pickett-and-wilkinson.html for an interesting supportive blog and interesting discussion thread about the virtues and otherwise of equal/ unequal societies.

Have a look at this video where Wilkinson discusses some of the details of the book –

However, the book has come under some heavy criticism – see http://spiritleveldelusion.blogspot.com/ which refers to a recent book called ‘The Spirit Level delusion’ – with ’20 questions for the Wilkinson and Picket’ – to which they respond.

If you click on this link, it takes you to a criticism of the Spirit Level by a guy called Peter Saunders (a right wing sociologists, a rare breed!) – http://www.thersa.org/events/audio-and-past-events/2010/the-spirit-level

To give you a gist of the criticisms – one arguement is that the relationship between inequality and some factors such as homicide is skewed dramatically by a few exceptional countries – such as the USA in the case of Homicide. You can listen to a debate between the authors of these two studies at the link above. A second similar arguement is that some countries have been left out of the cross national comparisons.

This debate shows you an interesting example of how even ‘scientific’ quantitative sociology – in the form of cross national comparisons struggles to be objective – because when you are dealing with cross national comparisons, there are so many variables to choose from, one has to be selective – and these selections are open to bias (in this case which countries to include and exlude.

One interesting thing worth thinking about  is that although the debate is all about whether the relationship between inequality and social problems can be scientifically proven – one can also make a moral arguement against inequality -perhaps it is fair to say that wealth inequalities like we have in modern Britain are wrong just because no one human being is so talented or so productive that they can legitimately end up being thousands of times wealthier than the average person.

At the end of my ‘brief review’ I’ve realised that I don’t really know whether to believe the spirit level’s data or not – it seams to me that those on the left, commited to fighting inequaility, are likely to believe it, while those on the right are more likely to criticise it.