The world isn’t perfect. Around 1.1 billion people around the world lack access to clean water and 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. Corruption and injustice still run amok in many countries. We’re polluting the world more than ever and man-made climate change threatens to undue human civilization. But, you know what, for the most part of it people are actually living much better lives than they used to.
Let’s face it, people will never be completely satisfied with their current situation because somehow expectations always exceed reality. That’s not to say that’s wrong. Arguably, it’s this urge to ‘always do better’ that has made humans both successful and prosperous. But sometimes, it’s just healthy to take a step back and gather some context — to look at where we’ve been, where we’re at now and how we can use this information to predict the future.
With this in mind, these interactive charts put together by Our World in Data should brighten your day. You can be that ‘glass half empty’ guy just as well but I, for one, feel very lucky for living in 2017 instead of 1907 or even 1990 for that matter.
- 1 Less than 10% of people living today live in extreme poverty vs over 95% in 1822
- 2 15% of the world’s population was illiterate in 2014 vs 88% in 1822
- 3 Child mortality was less than 5% in 2014 vs 42% in 1800
- 4 Life expectancy was 78.7 years in 2011 vs 39.4 years in 1880
- 5 53% of the world’s population lives in a democracy vs 1% in 1812
Less than 10% of people living today live in extreme poverty vs over 95% in 1822
The threshold for dire poverty in developing countries is set at $1.25 a day, a yardstick which averages the poverty lines in the 15 poorest countries. Thanks to economic growth, this poverty rate has more than halved worldwide, from 37% in 1990 to 16% in 2010. Between 1981 and 2001 China lifted 680m people out of poverty, for instance.
15% of the world’s population was illiterate in 2014 vs 88% in 1822
Some 775 million adults, two-third of whom are women, don’t know how to read a book or sign their names. An increasingly globalized economy requires skilled workforce so people who don’t even know how to read face many challenges in the 21st century. But looking back at, say, 1990 when illiteracy stood at 32%, I’d say we’re much better off.
Child mortality was less than 5% in 2014 vs 42% in 1800
If your parents were lower class in 1822, which used to mean almost everyone, they could have easily predicted with the flip of a coin whether you’ll survive childbirth. In 2013, the world average for child mortality was 4.6%, down from 9.0% in 1990. Work today is challenging because governments and organizations are dealing with diminishing returns but research shows that six million of the almost 11 million children who die each year could be saved by low-tech, evidence-based, cost-effective measures such as vaccines, antibiotics, micronutrient supplementation, insecticide-treated bed nets and improved family care and breastfeeding practices.
Life expectancy was 78.7 years in 2011 vs 39.4 years in 1880
A century ago life expectancy in India and South Korea was as low as 23 years. A century later, life expectancy in India has almost tripled and in South Korea it has almost quadrupled. That being said, there is still much room to cover. People in Sub-Saharan countries have a life expectancy of less than 50 years, while in Japan it exceeds 80.
53% of the world’s population lives in a democracy vs 1% in 1812
At the turn of the 19th century, slavery was still a thing in many countries — even in one of the few democracies at the time, the United States. Today, 53% of the world’s population lives in a democracy, meaning they live in a country whose constitutions grants equal civil rights and can vote their leaders. You might argue that there are only a few true, open democracies in the world but that’s still better than nothing. Half the globe used to belong to the Soviet Union until not too long ago.
The same chart, however, informs us that anocracies — regimes which are apparent democracies but are actually autocratic in practice, i.e. Russia or Philippines — are on the rise. Every democratic country where the public is misinformed and prey to demagogy is at risk of turning into an anocracy. This is important to note because even though the world is making a turn for the better, with progress being faster in some places than other, that doesn’t stop some politicians and media outlets from painting a dire picture so they can then march in and make the country ‘great’ again.
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