How accurately does anyone know the global distribution of income?

World income distributionHow much should you believe the numbers in figures like this?

People in the effective altruism community often refer to the global income distribution to make various points:

  • The richest people in the world are many times richer than the poor.
  • People earning professional salaries in countries like the US are usually in the top 5% of global earnings and fairly often in the top 1%. This gives them a disproportionate ability to improve the world.
  • Many people in the world live in serious absolute poverty, surviving on as little as one hundredth the income of the upper-middle class in the US.

Measuring the global income distribution is very difficult and experts who attempt to do so end up with different results. However, these core points are supported by every attempt to measure the global income distribution that we’ve seen so far.

The rest of this post will discuss the global income distribution data we’ve referred to, the uncertainty inherent in that data, and why we believe our bottom lines hold up anyway.

Will MacAskill had a striking illustration of global individual income distribution in his book Doing Good Better, that has ended up in many other articles online, including our own career guide:

The data in this graph was put together back in 2012 using an approach suggested by Branko Milanovic,

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What skills are effective altruist organisations short of? Results from our survey.

Note we’ve replaced this survey with one that’s more comprehensive and up-to-date.

In August 2016, we surveyed 16 organisations in the effective altruism community about their hiring needs, and to what extent they are constrained by talent compared to funding.

What follows is a summary of the results, grouped by question asked. You can see the list of organisations surveyed in the footnotes.

Note that since the survey was carried out over six months ago, some of the information may no longer be up to date. We intend to repeat the survey in August 2017, and will report back on how the situation has changed.

What types of talent does your organisation need?

Here are the options provided on the survey, along with the number of organisations which stated that they were looking to hire people for these roles:

(Note that this table is not weighted by budget or team size, although we do not expect that this would materially affect the results.)

In open feedback, several respondents also mentioned that the community is most in need of specialist researchers rather than generalist researchers. Some other skill sets which were not included as options, but which were mentioned more than twice in the open feedback include:

  1. Economists, in 3 cases.
  2. Math and AI researchers, in 2 cases.
  3. Policy experts, in 2 cases.
  4. Scientists, especially biologists,

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    80,000 Hours annual review Dec 2016


    2016 was an excellent year for 80,000 Hours. Here are some highlights – full details follow.


    • In our last review in May 2015, we set the goal of 50 significant plan changes per month by October 2016. That month, we actually recorded over 200.
    • To make it harder to grow by adding lots of small plan changes, in October 2015 we started “impact rating” the plan changes, and tracking the impact-weighted total. 31 Dec 2015, we set the target of tripling the monthly rate of impact-adjusted plan changes over the year, which we achieved in November 2016. We now track about 150 impact-adjusted significant plan changes (IASPC) per month.

    Impact and cost-effectiveness

    • Our costs in 2016 were £250,000, up 13% on 2015. Considering that our staff could have earned to give instead, the total opportunity cost is perhaps £350,000 – £500,000.
    • Since our last review, the ratio of costs to IASPC fell almost 3-fold.
    • In 2016, we caused 115 people to take the Giving What We Can (GWWC) 10% pledge. GWWC estimates this is worth about £5 million in donations to their recommended charities (counterfactually-adjusted, time-discounted, dropout adjusted). So this alone plausibly justifies our costs, although our aim is to solve talent gaps rather than funding gaps.
    • In addition, the plan changes since our last review now include three people who each intend to donate over $100m over their lifetimes,

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    Has 80,000 Hours justified its costs?

    We set up 80,000 Hours because we thought it could become one of the most effective charities in the world. The idea was to achieve a multiplier – with a small amount of our time, we could enable thousands of others to spend their careers on whatever is most effective, and achieve thousands of times as much as we could individually.

    In this post, we examine whether 80,000 Hours has generated enough impact to justify its costs over our history, and make some rough estimates of our multiplier.

    Because it’s hard to estimate what would have happened if 80,000 Hours had never existed, all of these estimates are very uncertain, and can be debated. However, there are multiple ways we’ve plausibly justified our costs to date. In this document, we sketch out some of these pathways. We’re not aiming to be fully rigorous. Rather, consider the examples as a group. If only a few turn out to be genuine cases of impact, we’ll have justified our costs many times over.

    Is this the wrong question?

    80,000 Hours is a startup. Asking whether we’ve justified our costs to date is like asking whether Google was profitable in 2000. The aim of 80,000 Hours is to grow, and have a far larger impact years in the future.

    Most of the value of donations to 80,000 Hours comes from the chance that these donations enable us to grow 10-times or 100-times.

    That said,

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    End of year update on plan changes

    This is an update on the number of significant plan changes we’ve caused as of the end of Nov 2016.

    We define a significant plan change as:

    Someone tells us that 80,000 Hours caused them to change the career path they intend to pursue, in a way that they think increases their lifetime impact.

    More on what counts as a significant plan change here.

    Our total number of plan changes as of the end of Nov 2016 is 1,854, and after impact-adjusting these it’s 1,504.8.

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    How much is one vote worth?

    Just 537 votes in Florida would have been enough to change the outcome of the 2000 election from George Bush to Al Gore – a margin of 0.009% (recount pictured above). And that wasn’t even the closest-won state that year: in New Mexico the margin was a mere 366 votes.

    People say it’s your civic duty to vote, but it also seems like it’s very unlikely your vote will make a difference.

    Who is right? Is voting really valuable, or a waste of time?

    We looked into the research on this, especially regarding the US Presidential election. The answer, surprisingly, is that the single hour you spend voting for the President and Congress can be the most important thing you do with an hour each four years – and we expect similar numbers for other kinds of elections outside the USA. It also looks like there are effective techniques you can use to ‘get out the vote’, if you want to do more than just vote yourself.

    The impact of your vote largely depends on 2 things, which we’ll investigate in turn:

    • The chances of your vote changing the election outcome.
    • How much better for the world as a whole one candidate is, compared to another.

    At first blush it might seem that the chances of your single vote changing the election outcome are zero. But while the chances are low, they could be around 1 in 10 million if you live in a swing state.

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    Update on 80,000 Hours May 2015 – June 2016

    This is a quick update on our progress over the last year. Our next in-depth annual review, in which we’ll vet everything in more depth, will be in January 2017.

    Our impact across the year

    Here’s our key metrics for the top of our funnel. Ultimately we care about significant plan changes, which we report right below.

    Unique visitors to site
    New newsletter subscribers

    Our newsletter now has a total of over 50,000 subscribers, which we think makes it the largest in the effective altruism community (most others have about 10,000). Our total traffic also just overtook GiveWell, which we think is the next largest by traffic (we had 880,000 users over the 12 months ending June, compared to 860,000 when calculated the same way.)

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    Is deep work the most underappreciated skill for career success? An interview with Cal Newport.

    Deep-WorkIn the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king – or so the saying goes. In his new book, Deep Work, Cal Newport argues that when it comes to deep concentration, we have become the land of the blind.

    He believes that the ability to do focused work is essential for career success, but becoming increasingly rare. And the fewer people are capable of deep work, the more of an edge you should be able to get by being the exception.

    We think Cal is one of the most interesting thinkers working on the issue of career strategy, so recommend you check it out. We interviewed Cal to learn more.

    Quick summary of the book

    Cal defines “deep work” as “the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task”.

    In his previous book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal argues it’s better to focus on gaining career capital rather than “following your passion” (we agree). Part one of Deep Work takes off where his previous book ends – he argues that deep work is essential to gaining valuable career capital. In short:

    • Deep work is increasingly valuable in the modern economy because it’s what allows you to master new intellectual skills and produce creative breakthroughs. People able to do both of these can take work that’s unlikely to be automated and reach the top of their fields,

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    Update on number of significant plan changes

    This is a brief update on the number of significant plan changes we’ve caused as of the end of Dec 2015.

    We define a significant plan change as:

    Someone tells us that 80,000 Hours caused them to change the career path they intend to pursue, in a way that they think increases their lifetime impact.

    More on what counts as a significant plan change here.

    Our total number of significant plan changes as of the end of Dec 2015 is 453.

    Here’s a summary of our key figures:

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    Why and how to work on nuclear security

    We’ve released a new ‘problem profile’ on the risks posed by nuclear weapons.

    Nuclear weapons that are currently armed have the potential to kill hundreds of millions of people directly, and billions through subsequent effects on agriculture. There are many examples in history of instances in which the US or Russia came close to accidentally or deliberately using their nuclear weapons.

    Fortunately, nuclear security is already a major topic of interest for governments, inter-governmental organisations and think tanks. However, this does make it harder for any additional individual to influence the outcome.

    Most opportunities to reduce the risks posed by nuclear weapons seem to be through work in the military or foreign policy establishments, or research in the think tanks that offer them ideas on how to lessen the risk of nuclear conflict.

    In the profile we cover:

    • The main reasons for and against thinking that nuclear security is a highly pressing problem to work on.
    • How to use your career to ensure nuclear weapons are never used.

    Read our full profile on nuclear security.

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      Help finish off our winter fundraising round

      Our winter fundraising round is in progress.

      We’ve already raised £172,000, and are looking to raise £48,000 more.

      If we make this target, then we’ll be able to cover:

      • All our costs for 2016 (mostly salaries for 4.3 full-time staff).
      • Plus hire a full-time coach.
      • And then have 12 months’ reserves remaining to start of our next fundraising round.

      In the last year, we grew our newsletter five-fold to over 23,000, and increased web traffic three-fold to 60,000 unique visits per month. We accomplished this with only a small increase in costs.

      During 2016, we’ll focus on converting more of this interest into plan changes by improving the online guide, such as by adding a series of intro videos and more career reviews. Our target is to increase the rate of significant plan changes five-fold.

      If you’ve benefitted from our advice and would like to help us expand, please make a donation.

      If you have any questions, just drop me an email at [email protected].

      You can find much more detail about our plans and progress in the evaluations section of our site, as well as fortnightly updates here.

      Donate here

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      The story of 80,000 Hours (podcast)

      Here’s a podcast with me by Campus Kudos on:

      • How 80,000 Hours got started.
      • How I ended up working at 80,000 Hours.
      • What it was like being in Y Combinator as a nonprofit.
      • Our plans for the next year.

      I’d also recommend checking out Campus Kudos. Often the best way to learn about a career and get a job is to speak to lots of people already in that path, but when you’re at college it’s hard to get the right connections. Campus Kudos aims to solve exactly this problem. If you’re a US student, you can sign up and be introduced to people willing to answer your career questions and provide free mentoring. Check it out and let me know how you get on ([email protected]).

      Listen to the podcast

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      New opportunities to work in effective altruism


      Our parent organisation, the Centre for Effective Altruism, is doing a recruitment round, and is hiring for a lot of positions. If you’d like to work at an effective altruist organisation, these are some great opportunities:

      Find more details.

      Please email recruitment [at] centreforeffectivealtruism [dot] org if you have any queries or would like to request any alternate arrangements to the usual application process.

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      How can doctors do the most good? An interview with Dr Gregory Lewis


      Gregory Lewis is public health doctor training in the east of England. He studied medicine at Cambridge, where he volunteered for Giving What We Can and 80,000 Hours. He blogs at The Polemical Medic. This interview was conducted as part of the research I did for Will MacAskill’s book, Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference. Greg’s story is discussed in the fourth and fifth chapters of that book.

      Pablo Stafforini: To get us started, can you tell us a bit about your background, and in particular about your reasons for deciding to become a doctor?

      Gregory Lewis: Sure. I guess I found myself at the age of 14 or so being fairly good at science and not really having any idea of what to do with myself. I had some sort of vague idea of wanting to try to make the world a better place, in some slightly naive way. So I sort of thought, “What am I going to do with myself?” And my thoughts were pretty much verbatim, “Well, I’m good at science and want to do good. Doctors are good at science and they want to do good. Therefore, I want to be a doctor.” So based on that simple argument, I applied to medical school, got in, spent the following six years of my life in medical school qualifying as a doctor,

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        What are the 10 most harmful jobs?

        We spend most of our time discussing the most helpful careers that you should take.

        We just created a three minute career recommender to highlight some of the options with the largest positive social impact for you.

        As most of the people we talk to are deciding between reasonable to excellent options, this seems like the right focus.

        But which careers are the worst?

        Here we try to guess which mainstream jobs are most likely to do significant harm. As almost no one we know is considering careers of this kind we have limited our investment in this research; it’s an initial exploration of the topic, based on general knowledge and a review of the key figures.

        Here are the criteria:

        • The job has to be legal. Needless to say, organised crime is a harmful career!
        • More than one in a million people has to work in the job in the OECD, so it can’t be incredibly obscure or specific.
        • It can’t be harmful only if you’re particularly incompetent (for example, being a bad teacher), deliberately trying to do a bad job, or violating the profession’s code of ethics.

        It’s easy to think of jobs that are useless and just transfer money from one person to another. But being unproductive alone isn’t enough to make a top ten list. There are also notable industries that cause harm,

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        Summary of our annual review May 2015

        We’ve just published our annual review for the period ending April 2015.

        In case you’re new to 80,000 Hours, this is what we do: we advise talented graduates on how to maximise the social impact of their careers. Currently, we do this through our online guide and one-on-one coaching. We help graduates find the meaningful careers they want, while moving more talent to the world’s most pressing problems.

        The key documents in the review are:

        In brief, this year we made major improvements to our online guide, leading to 400% growth in the monthly rate of significant plan changes (our key impact metric). Our President wrote a book that Steve Levitt described as “required reading for anyone interested in making the world better,” we quickly met our fundraising stretch target, and we were admitted to the world’s top startup accelerator, Y Combinator. We did all this despite a smaller budget and two staff with long-term illness.

        We also made plenty of mistakes.

        In total, to date we’ve caused 188 significant plan changes. As a result of our help, these people:

        • Have founded five professional non-profits that likely wouldn’t exist without us.
        • Have entered careers such as research and politics.

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        What’s it like being a non-profit in Y Combinator?

        Now the obligatory Tech Crunch article is out, I’m thrilled to announce we’ve been in Y Combinator (YC) since June. YC is widely regarded as the world’s best startup accelerator, and has supported companies such as AirBnB, Reddit and Dropbox. It provides investment and intensive coaching over three months.

        I’ve had a lot of questions about YC over the last couple of days. Here’s answers to the most common questions, plus an update on our progress since we were admitted.


        What do you get as a non-profit in YC, and why did you join?

        Instead of $120,000 of investment, you get a $100,000 donation. Otherwise, you’re treated almost exactly the same as a for-profit. This means:

        • There are two partners who look after you. You meet them once every 1-2 weeks. We’re looked after by Dalton Caldwell and Paul Bucheit, the founder of Gmail.
        • Kate Courteau, head of the non-profit program also looks out for us.
        • You can also request office hours with any of the other 20 or so partners. We’ve had great office hours with Kevin Hale, the founder of Wufoo, on web design, and Sam Altman, the President of YC, on strategy. We’ve also had some very useful legal help from YC’s lawyers.
        • Paul Graham is retired, but you get to meet him once. Unfortunately, we didn’t yet.
        • There’s a dinner each Tuesday where they bring in a tech leader to talk off-the-record,

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        Plans for the coming year May 2015

        This report explains our strategy and plans for the next year, and is part of our annual review.

        Moving from discovery phase to growth phase

        We’ve seen the last three years as our “discovery phase” (as explained in our last business plan). We didn’t immediately focus on growth because first we wanted to answer the following questions:

        1. Could we make significant progress on the issue of how best to choose a career with social impact?
        2. Would people listen to our research and change their career plans?
        3. Would they follow through with these plan changes and actually increase their impact?
        4. Could we bring about these plan changes scalably and cost-effectively?
        5. Do we have a working funding model?

        Answering these questions took time, especially because it usually takes people a year or so to change their plans, and it takes another year or more to see if they have followed through.

        Today, however, we think we can answer “yes” to each question. We believe this means that 80,000 Hours is a project with potentially huge impact: 31% of graduates say making an impact in their work is “essential”, but they have little idea what to do except work in the social sector or give up (“sell out”). So most of their potential impact is wasted.

        We can potentially fix that.

        As a result, we now intend to move into a “growth phase”.

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        Review of progress May 2015

        In this post, which is part of our annual review, we review our achievements, challenges and mistakes over the year ending May 2015.

        Key achievements

        Our major achievements this year include the following:

        • We made major improvements to our online guide, leading to 400% growth in the monthly rate of significant plan changes.
        • Our President, Will, wrote a book, which was released last week.
        • We quickly met our fundraising stretch target.
        • We were also admitted to the world’s top startup accelerator, Y Combinator.
        • We did all this with a smaller budget than last year and despite two staff suffering from long-term illness.

        Improvements to our online guide

        At the start of 2014, our website had little more than a blog – we had just a one page summary of our advice. By April 2015, we had a twenty page online guide with four sections and 16 career profiles.

        Following the launch of the new content in September 2014, unique page views of the guide reached 46,000 per month by April. Monthly newsletter sign-ups also went up to 313, twenty times the number from the equivalent period last year.

        As a result, we estimate that our online content alone is causing six significant plan changes per month, four times the rate in early 2014. (And that’s before taking account of the fact that significant plan changes will lag significantly behind traffic because it takes time to change your career.)

        I think we also made significant improvements to the quality of design and writing,

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        Review of program performance May 2015


        In this report, which is part of our annual review, we review how our programs performed over the last year (ending April 2015).

        The key metric we use to measure the performance of our programs is “significant plan changes”. A significant plan change is when someone tells us that they probably changed the career path they were going to follow because of us.

        This year, the number of plan changes caused by our online guide rose from about 1.3 per month at the start of 2014 to about 6.5 per month – 400% growth. The rate of newsletter sign ups per month through the website – our key engagement metric – also grew 1600%.

        Due to a shift in focus, we coached about a third as many people in 2014 as we had in 2013, and spent less time per person. As a result, significant plan changes caused by coaching declined from 21 in 2013 to 3 in 2014. They picked up again in early 2015 as we increased time spent coaching.

        In total to date, we’ve now recorded 188 significant plan changes, up from 107 at the time of our last evaluation in April 2014. We estimate we’re adding about 10 per month at the margin (6.5 from guide, 2 from other (mainly community) and the remainder from coaching), up from 2 per month near the start of 2014.

        The average cost per plan change has been decreasing,

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