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In 2011, a Harvard professor asked more than 5,000 people how they thought wealth was distributed in the United States, as well as what they thought the ideal distribution would look like. Most people thought that there was significant inequality with respect to the ideal, but they underestimated the actual inequality. By a lot.

In this lesson, students use measures of center, five-number summaries, and box plots to examine the different distributions and dig into one of the most important economic and political issues facing the nation.

Students will

  • Use raw data and bar charts to make qualitative comparisons among different data sets
  • Calculate mean and median wealth for a country given data about individual citizens
  • Create five-number summaries to describe the spread of a data set
  • Create and use box plots in order to make comparisons among different wealth distributions

Before you begin

Students should be able to calculate the mean and median of a small data set. They should also be able to find quartiles and use them to construct a box plot to summarize data.

Common Core Standards

Content Standards
Mathematical Practices


Politizane, Dr. Michael Norton (Harvard Business School)