These 6 Charts Show How the World is Improving
View the high resolution version of today’s graphic by clicking here.
It only takes a few minutes of cable news to get the feeling that the world is heading into a tailspin.
Endless images of homicide investigations, natural disasters, car crashes, and drug busts fill the airwaves on a daily basis. It’s upsetting – but also certainly captivating for the average viewer.
In fact, the news cycle thrives on fear and violence, so mainstream networks find a way to fill up 99% of programming with these singular events. It’s addicting and sometimes anger-inducing, but is it representative of what’s really going on in the world?
Good News Happens Slowly
Today’s infographic comes to us from economist Max Roser of Our World in Data, and it highlights six megatrends that show that in many important ways, our world is improving drastically.
The one commonality of these six indicators? They all happen slowly and incrementally, but are more evident with a long-term perspective.
Each family lifted out of poverty, each classroom that gets built, and each village gaining access to basic vaccinations may not seem significant on a scale of billions of people – but over decades, these gains add up to create a richer, more educated, and healthier world and a very powerful statistical story.
Six Global Trends
Here are the six big picture trends pointed out by Roser, using data collected over hundreds of years:
1. Extreme Poverty
The portion of people in extreme poverty – making less than $1.90 per day – has dropped like a rock over the years. Back in 1940, about 75% of the world was in extreme poverty – today, that number is just 10%.
The most potent recent example of this is China, where access to free markets have enabled 700 million people to be lifted out of poverty in just over 20 years.
It’s also worth mentioning that statistics for this category are done using inflation-adjusted international dollars, which take into account inflation over time as well as exchange rates. Non-monetary forms of income are also included in the calculations.
2. Basic Education
In 1820, only a privileged few were able to get basic schooling. Since then, millions of classrooms and schools have been added around the globe, and the numbers are staggering. In relative terms, we’ve gone from 17% of people having a basic education to 86% today.
Here’s a more detailed breakdown of this, also from Our World in Data:
Following a similar trend line as basic education, literacy has risen from 12% to 85% over roughly two hundred years. In absolute terms, these numbers are even more impressive. In the 1820s, there were only about 100 million people that could read that were 15 years or older. Today, the number stands at 4.6 billion.
While the world has been having some short-term setbacks when it comes to freedom and democracy, the overall trend line is still impressive over the long run.
In 1900, only 1 in 100 people worldwide lived in a democracy – and today, the majority (56 in 100) can say they live in a country with free and fair elections.
Vaccinations for diseases like whopping cough, tetanus, and diphtheria were unavailable for most of the 200 year chart. However, today around 86% of people globally are vaccinated against these basic and devastating illnesses.
6. Child Mortality
Even as far back as 1920, it used to be that over 30% of infants would die before they hit their 5th birthday.
Since then, developments in housing, sanitation, science, and medicine have made it so that death is a much rarer occurrence for the youngest people in our society. Today, on a global basis, child mortality has been reduced to 4%.
Visualizing 200 Years of Systems of Government
At the start of the 19th century, less than 1% of humanity lived under democratic rule. See how systems of government have changed over the last 200 years.
Visualizing 200 Years of Systems of Government
Centuries ago, most of our ancestors were living under a different political paradigm.
Although democracy was starting to show signs of growth in some parts of the world, it was more of an idea, rather than an established or accepted system of government.
Even at the start of the 19th century, for example, it’s estimated that the vast majority of the global population — roughly 84% of all people — still lived under in autocratic regimes or colonies that lacked the authority to self-govern their own affairs.
The Evolution of Rule
Today’s set of charts look at global governance, and how it’s evolved over the last two centuries of human history.
Leveraging data from the widely-used Polity IV data set on political regimes, as well as the work done by economist Max Roser through Our World in Data, we’ve plotted an empirical view of how people are governed.
Specifically, our charts break down the global population by how they are governed (in absolute terms), as well as by the relative share of population living under those same systems of government (percentage terms).
Classifying Systems of Government
The Polity IV data series defines a state’s level of democracy by ranking it on several metrics, such as competitive and open elections, political participation, and checks on authority.
Polity scores are on a -10 to +10 scale, where the lower end (-10 to -6) corresponds with autocracies and the upper end (+6 to +10) corresponds to democracies. Below are five types of government that can be derived from the scale, and that are shown in the visualization.
A territory under the political control of another country, and/or occupied by settlers from that country.
Examples: 🇬🇮 Gibraltar, 🇬🇺 Guam, 🇵🇫 French Polynesia
A single person (the autocrat) possesses supreme and absolute power.
Examples: 🇨🇳 China, 🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia, 🇰🇵 North Korea
- Closed Anocracy
An anocracy is loosely defined as a regime that mixes democratic and autocratic features. In a closed anocracy, political competitors are drawn only from an elite and well-connected pool.
Examples: 🇹🇭 Thailand, 🇲🇦 Morocco, 🇸🇬 Singapore
- Open Anocracy
Similar to a closed anocracy, an open anocracy draws political competitors from beyond elite groups.
Examples: 🇷🇺 Russia, 🇲🇾 Malaysia, 🇧🇩 Bangladesh
Citizens exercise power by voting for their leaders in elections.
Examples: 🇺🇸 United States, 🇩🇪 Germany, 🇮🇳 India
A Long-Term Trend in Question
In the early 19th century, less than 1% of the global population could be found in democracies.
In more recent decades, however, the dominoes have fallen — and today, it’s estimated that 56% of the world population lives in societies that can be considered democratic, at least according to the Polity IV data series highlighted above.
While there are questions regarding a recent decline in freedom around the world, it’s worth considering that democratic governance is still a relatively new tradition within a much broader historical context.
Will the long-term trend of democracy prevail, or are the more recent indications of populism a sign of reversion?
Mapped: The Dramatic Global Rise of Urbanization (1950–2020)
Few global trends have matched the profound impact of urbanization. Today’s map looks back at 70 years of movement in over 1,800 cities.
The Dramatic Global Rise of Urbanization (1950–2020)
In the 21st century, few trends have matched the economic, environmental, and societal impact of rapid urbanization.
A steady stream of human migration out of the countryside, and into swelling metropolitan centers, has shaken up the world’s power dynamic in just decades.
Today’s eye-catching map via Cristina Poiata from Z Creative Labs looks at 70 years of movement and urban population growth in over 1,800 cities worldwide. Where is the action?
Out of the Farms and Into the Cities
The United Nations cites two intertwined reasons for urbanization: an overall population increase that’s unevenly distributed by region, and an upward trend in people flocking to cities.
Since 1950, the world’s urban population has risen almost six-fold, from 751 million to 4.2 billion in 2018. In North America alone, significant urban growth can be observed in the video for Mexico and the East Coast of the United States as this shift takes place.
Over the next few decades, the rural population is expected to plateau and eventually decline, while urban growth will continue to shoot up to six billion people and beyond.
The Biggest Urban Hot-Spots
Urban growth is going to happen all across the board.
Rapidly rising populations in megacities and major cities will be significant contributors, but it’s also worth noting that the number of regional to mid-sized cities (500k to 5 million inhabitants) will swell drastically by 2030, becoming more influential economic hubs in the process.
Interestingly, it’s mainly cities across Asia and Africa — some of which Westerners are largely unfamiliar with — that may soon wield enormous influence on the global stage.
It’s expected that over a third of the projected urban growth between now and 2050 will occur in just three countries: India, China, and Nigeria. By 2050, it is projected that India could add 416 million urban dwellers, China 255 million, and Nigeria 189 million.
Urbanization and its Complications
Rapid urbanization isn’t only linked to an inevitable rise in city populations.
Some megacities are actually experiencing population contractions, in part due to the effects of low fertility rates in Asia and Europe. For example, while the Greater Tokyo area contains almost 38 million people today, it’s expected to shrink starting in 2020.
As rapid urbanization continues to shape the global economy, finding ways to provide the right infrastructure and services in cities will be a crucial problem to solve for communities and organizations around the world. How we deal with these issues — or how we don’t — will set the stage for the next act in the modern economic era.
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