Testing the Flat World Thesis: Using a Public Dataset to Engage Students in the Global Inequality Debate

Document Type


Publication Date



We present a learning module to engage students in the global inequality debate using Google Public Data World Development Indicators. Goals of this article are to articulate the importance and urgency of teaching global issues to American students; situate the central debate in the globalization literature, paying particular attention to global inequalities and trajectories of convergence or divergence in life chances; and demonstrate the value of engaging students in the analysis of macro- level data. These data enable students to test assumptions concerning gaps in opportunities that separate wealthy societies from poor societies and determine whether these gaps are narrowing or expanding. Depending on the course content and combinations of indicators studied, students reach different conclusions concerning the merits of a "flat world" thesis. We find that teaching about global inequalities and engagement with global data reshapes students' beliefs and enhances student interest in the concerns of global relations.

Publication Name

Teaching Sociology

Volume Number


First Page


Last Page


Issue Number