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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

  • Calculate mean and median income and discuss which statistic is most appropriate.
  • Use raw data and bar charts to compare different data sets describing the income of citizens.
  • Interpret and create box plots describing different distributions of of wealth.

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)