Mathematics, Quantitative Literacy, Inequality, Gini Coefficient, Calculus, Social Justice, Inequity, Lorenz Curves, Energy, Energy Resources, Resource Allocation


This paper stems from work done by the authors at the Mathematics for Social Justice Workshop held in June of 2007 at Middlebury College. We provide a description of the Gini coefficient and some discussion of how it can be used to promote quantitative literacy skills in mathematics courses. The Gini Coefficient was introduced in 1921 by Italian statistician Corrado Gini as a measure of inequality. It is defined as twice the area between two curves. One, the Lorenz curve for a given population with respect to a given resource, represents the cumulative percentage of the resource as a function of the cumulative percentage of the population that shares that percentage of the resource. The second curve is the line y = x which is the Lorenz curve for a population which shares the resource equally. The Gini coefficient can be interpreted as the percentage of inequality represented in the population with respect to the given resource. We propose that the Gini coefficient can be used to enhance students’ understanding of calculus concepts and provide practice for students in using both calculus and quantitative literacy skills. Our examples are based mainly on distribution of energy resources using publicly available data from the Energy Information Agency of the United States Government. For energy resources within the United States, we find that by household, the Gini coefficient is 0.346, while using the 51 data points represented by the states and Washington D.C., the Gini coefficient is 0.158. When we consider the countries of the world as a population of 210, the Gini coefficient is 0.670. We close with ideas for questions which can be posed to students and discussion of the experiences two other mathematics instructors have had incorporating the Gini coefficient into pre-calculus-level mathematics classes.