Posted by: jwhiff | July 25, 2018

MN7: Lower GDP per Capita: Is it a problem?

Take a little time to explore GDP per capita.  If it is low, is it really a problem?  How can you tell?

First, GDP per capita is an imaginary measure.  It is a basic average calculation of GDP divided by the population of a given nation.  In reality, no wealth is ever distributed that way.  There are always those who earn more than others.

Here is an activity you can try with your class. It works best if you have a neighbouring class that is willing to work with you.  One class will have a high GDP per capita and the other will have a lower one.

Your students are all members of a tiny, imaginary island nation (you can come up with a name if you wish). This island is located near another island nation.  The islands are very different from one another.

Population of the island = population of your class

Cut the following cards out (when you click one of these links, you will not automatically see the document. Click the link a second time and the document will appear): GDP per capita Island 1    GDP per capita Island 2

Distribute them so that each member of your class has one.  On each card is basic personal information and annual income.


Use income information to calculate the GDP and the GDP per capita for your nation.  You can give partners a class list and have them move around to collect the necessary information.  Regroup and double check  answers as a class.  You can also take your time with this information to practice or review median, mean and mode.

Compare the information.  Which nation is the wealthiest? Even though GDP per capita hides inequality, does it still give you a good measure of which country is wealthier?  Why do you think one country is so much wealthier than the other? Is it a problem that one nation has much less than the other?

Time to look at two other good stats: Life Expectancy and Literacy Rates

Each card has two other pieces of information: whether or not you can read or write and how old you are when you die.  The class is going to use this information to calculate Life Expectancy averages and Literacy Rates (%).  Calculate the overall rates for your class and also look at the difference between male and female results.

Compare the information. Which nation has the longest average life expectancy? Which nation has the highest literacy rate? Are there any differences between male and female rates for your nation?  What does this all tell you about quality of life in your island nation? Does this change if you are a female? Why do you think the two nations are so different? Where would you rather live? Why?


Check out the GDP per capita, life expectancy and literacy rates for the 10 underprivileged nations: MN6. Are these nations plagued with low life expectancy and literacy rates, too?  Would they be difficult places to live?

Plus, of course, it is important to reflect on GDP per capita as an accurate measure of poverty.  Why is it always important to look at other statistics (like literacy rates and life expectancy) before using it to judge a country? You can look at wealth distribution as well, if you are on a roll.  There is a tidy little measure called the Gini Index on the CIA World Factbook that you can explore.  This might be a good time to compare to Canada, as well.  What is our GDP per capita?  Is our wealth shared equally?

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