Makeover Monday -Wealth Inequality in the United States

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Whenever I find the time, I try to write a blog post to comment on my Makeover Monday submission for that week.

As I’m currently sitting in the car on the way home, I do have the time. There are about 2 hours left on this trip before I’ll arrive home, so I may as well make the most of it.

This week’s Makeover Monday challenge is looking at wealth inequality in the United States.

The share of US household wealth was split by income level in the data, and the original visualization compared how much wealth was held by the top 0.1% of households compared to the bottom 90%, i.e. almost the entire rest of the population.


The data


My first step is always to have at least a quick look at the data in the ‘data source window’ in Tableau Desktop. Why?

I want a basic understanding what I’m dealing with. What type of numbers are there? Percentages, currency data, whole numbers or decimal numbers? How big are they? Hundreds, thousands, millions?

And what are some of the dimensions? String fields and dates?


The original viz

My second step usually takes me back to the original visualization. What does it look like and what do I think about it?


  • This week’s visualization posted on the Business Insider website is simple, which I appreciate.
  • The y-axis starts at zero and the line chart is an appropriate choice for the data, because we’re looking at values from continuous years between 1917 and 2012
  • The y-axis goes up to 40% rather than 100% which is okay because we don’t need to see the rest of the range to compare the two household groups and the amount of wealth they hold
  • The chart title is straight-forward albeit a little unimaginative


What I don’t like about it

  • The heading: ‘US wealth inequality: Top 0.1% hold the same amount of wealth as the bottom 90%‘ is only partially true. It’s accurate at those points where the two lines intersect. It also applies (roughly) in 2012, but the heading doesn’t specify WHEN the claim is supposed to apply. And given that the latest data is from 2012, the situation may have worsened or improved since then, so does it still hold true? We don’t know.
  • The dual axis doesn’t need to be displayed on both sides on the chart, it takes up a lot of room that could have been used to better display the data and to give the actual lines a bit more room
  • I’m not a fan of the colour choice. Red and Blue. Is this a political statement or good against bad? Or a random choice? Plus, the actually hues of red and blue appear to be straight out of a standard windows palette which I don’t find appealing to the eye. Darker hues of red and blue with a little transparency would already improve the viz in my view.


What I did

At first I recreated the original viz in Tableau, because with the many measures available in the dataset, I wanted to ensure I was using the correct fields for my makeover. I always try to stick as close to the original viz as possible regarding the fields I include in my visualization, so it is easy to compare the two charts afterwards.


After re-creating I went onto the next viz. I knew I wanted to end up with a chart that shows how much the Top 0.1% are ‘eating into’ the share of the Bottom 90% of households.

The area chart with dual axis was decided on pretty quickly and I knew I wanted the Top 0.1% are in the foreground because it would show how it sometimes ‘overshadows’ the share of wealth of the rest of the nation. And where it doesn’t exceed it, it certainly stacks up…

So the Bottom 90% had to remain in the background.

Colour choice took a lot longer.

I thought about grey and red, but I have used that a number of times in the past and wanted to try something different.


I tried black and grey on a white background, dark grey and mint on a white background, dark grey and light blue on a white background, then on a black background. But none of it felt right.

I wanted to represent the Top 0.1% in a colour that to me feels a bit elitist, luxurious but without being tacky. A rich, deep purple was what I wanted and I tested a few shades before getting to the final one. It’s more plum than purple, but it reminds me of old paintings of royals with purple and gold.


It seemed to fit the ultra-rich.

Using a black background appealed to me because it underlines the seriousness of the topic and brings out the purple area chart in a different way than a white background would.


A bit of text

As soon as I settled on the colours, I was happy with the viz. But of course, there are  always the tooltips left to do. I can’t handle the default tooltips, so I did some minor changes.


The heading I kept simple, but added an explanatory subheading. I wanted to make sure any reader can see that the situation has actually worsened when it comes to income equality. Even when the gap between the Top 0.1% and the Bottom 90% was at its widest, the Top 0.1% still held a ridiculous amount of wealth compared to everyone else. But rather than achieving a more balanced society where wealth is more distributed, the gap is widening again.


While I clearly have an opinion on this topic, I kept my subtitle/comment free of judgement. I aim to report and visualize the facts. What people thing about it, is up to them.


The end result

Here is my final viz which I uploaded to Tableau Public and shared on Twitter.


If you have any feedback on it, please feel free to comment below or on Twitter.

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