Book cover for the Broken LadderThe Broken Ladder

by Keith Payne

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Read to Achieve book for 2019

The levels of inequality in the world today are on a scale that have not been seen in our lifetimes, yet the disparity between rich and poor has ramifications that extend far beyond mere financial means. In The Broken Ladder, psychologist Keith Payne examines how inequality divides us not just economically; it also has profound consequences for how we think, how we respond to stress, how our immune systems function, and even how we view moral concepts such as justice and fairness.

Research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral economics has not only revealed important new insights into how inequality changes people in predictable ways but also provided a corrective to the flawed view of poverty as being the result of individual character failings. Among modern developed societies, inequality is not primarily a matter of the actual amount of money people have. It is, rather, people’s sense of where they stand in relation to others. Feeling poor matters—not just being poor. Regardless of their average incomes, countries or states with greater levels of income inequality have much higher rates of all the social maladies we associate with poverty, including lower than average life expectancies, serious health problems, mental illness, and crime.
The Broken Ladder explores such issues as why women in poor societies often have more children, and why they have them at a younger age; why there is little trust among the working class in the prudence of investing for the future; why people’s perception of their social status affects their political beliefs and leads to greater political divisions; how poverty raises stress levels as effectively as actual physical threats; how inequality in the workplace affects performance; and why unequal societies tend to become more religious. Understanding how inequality shapes our world can help us better understand what drives ideological divides, why high inequality makes the middle class feel left behind, and how to disconnect from the endless treadmill of social comparison.

(from Penguin Random House)

Keith Payne’s Academic Website:

Author Page on Penguin Random House:

Praise on The Broken Ladder

"A persuasive and highly readable account of how rising inequality, and not just absolute poverty, is undermining our politics, social cohesion, long term prosperity, and general well-being."

                                                                                                ---President Barack Obama

“An important and disturbing book to tell us how inequality is affecting Americans psychologically. . . . Payne, who grew up poor in Kentucky hill country, felt the injuries of class as a child. . . . As an adult, he is helping to create a new ‘science of inequality,’ by studying such subjects as the connection between social status and stress . . . and income inequality and life expectancy. . . . It is sobering stuff, and it should make us think about the hidden costs of growing income inequality—and about the messages society is sending to people about where they fit in.”

                                                                                                ---The National Book Review

The Broken Ladder advances a timely examination by a leading social scientist of the physical, psychological, and moral effects of inequality and the measures that people can take to lessen the harm done by inequality in their own lives.”                                                                                                                                                                                         

                                                                                ---Publishers Weekly

Previous Read to Achieve Books

Immigration Essays by Sybil Baker

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

The Circle by Dave Eggers

The Postmortal by Drew Magary

This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women by Dan Gediman and Jay Allison

Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, an American Town by Warren St. John

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents Of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

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