Bernard L pointed us to this income distribution chart printed in the Economist.
The accompanying paragraph points to the range of the bars, that is, the gap between the top decile average and the bottom decile average, as evidence of income disparity, concluding that the US and Britain are among the worst.
Bernard likes the use of vertical sections to represent the average incomes by decile and dislikes the USA-Today style background image. Agreed. But why plot the middle deciles at all when the only worthy data involve the endpoints of the bars?
A close examination of the spacing of the middle deciles leads to more befuddlement. There does not appear to be much difference between the countries.
The answer to this is that decile statistics are not appropriate for data as skewed as incomes. At the high end, the 10% intervals are too coarse.
One clue to this is that the top 10% in the US only earns $90,000 on average but we have all heard of the billion-dollar hedge fund managers and Wall Street bankers and $30 million a movie celebrities. The problem is that within the top decile, the income distribution is also tremendously skewed.
The neat idea of plotting the vertical sections indicates an awareness that the red dots (average income) are insufficient because of the skew. Alas, there remains a lot of skew above the top decile and the designer inadvertently falls back into the same trap by considering the average income within the top 10%. Thus, the amount of disparity on the right side of the chart is grossly underestimated. Roughly speaking, we are looking at 10 samples of the distribution, nine of which at the low end of the range and only one at the top end (long tail). Here is the idea:
Reference: "Spreading the wealth", Economist, Oct 21 2008.