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Demographics

These 6 Charts Show How the World is Improving

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These 6 Charts Show How the World is Improving

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.

Poverty in China

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:

Level of education of world

3. Literacy
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.

4. Democracy
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.

5. Vaccination
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%.

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Demographics

Mapped: The World Divided Into 4 Regions With Equal Populations

This simple map visualization will change how you think about global population, and how people are distributed throughout the planet.

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World Map: Divided Into 4 Regions With Equal Populations

View the full-size version of the infographic by clicking here

At the most basic level, a standard world map tells us almost nothing about human population.

While the borders on a map may give us an idea of political boundaries or even aspects of continental geography, in reality they have little to do with showing population density.

That said, it is possible to apply one simple alteration to the world map so that we can make it more interesting from a population perspective – and it turns out that doing so can help us gain insight on where regional population density is the greatest.

Splitting Up the Map

Today’s map comes from Reddit user /u/OrneryThroat and it breaks up the world by grouping countries into four equally populated regions.

While both simple and crude, this mechanism does have some profound results:

RegionPopulation
North America, South America, and West/Central Africa1.9 billion
Europe, East Africa, Middle East, and Northern Asia1.9 billion
South Asia1.9 billion
Most of Southeast Asia, China, and Oceania1.9 billion

More specifically, there is one area that stands out from a visual standpoint, and it resides clearly in the southern portion of Asia.

Home to 1.34 billion people, it’s well-known that India already holds roughly 20% of the global population – but add Pakistan (195 million) and Bangladesh (165 million) into the mix, and you’re already closing in on one quarter of the global total.

Meanwhile, to get to a similar number, you’d need to add the entire populations of North America, South America, Europe, and Oceania together to even come close.

Shown Another Way

While splitting it into four equal portions is one way to transform the world map, here is another geometric route to conveying a similar idea about the world’s population density:

Circle population

On a previous Chart of the Week, we showed that 22 of the world’s 37 megacities are located in the small circle above, putting into perspective the region’s population density in a similar but different way.

These simple transformations of the world map are not only memorable, but they also give our brain an easy heuristic to better understand the planet we live on.

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Demographics

The World Population Pyramid (1950-2100)

The world is in the midst of a notable demographic transition. Here’s how the world population pyramid will change as we close in on the year 2100.

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The world is in the midst of a notable period of demographic transition.

Back in the 1960s, global population growth peaked at a 2.1% annual rate, but since then it has been on a historic downtrend.

In fact, according to the most commonly cited United Nations projection, which is based on a medium fertility rate scenario, it’s expected that annual population growth could drop all the way to 0.1% by the end of the 21st century.

Visualizing a Demographic Transition

Today’s powerful charts come from Our World in Data by economist Max Roser, and they show how global demographics will shift over the next 80 years.

Below you can see one major catalyst of this change, which is the peaking (and then falling) population growth rate:

Growth in world population from 1950 to 2100

Why has population growth been dropping since the 1960s?

A variety of explanations factor into this, including:

  • Falling fertility rates:
    Birth rates tend to fall as nations get richer. First, this happened in the developed world, but as the century progresses this phenomenon will impact more and more developing nations.
  • Government policy:
    China’s “One Child Policy” in particular had an effect on global population growth, and the aftermath of the policy is still contributing to a shrinking Chinese population over the long term.
  • Rural flight
    Urban dwellers tend to have fewer babies – and by 2050, there will be an additional 2.5 billion people living in cities globally.

Fewer births combined with improving healthcare – especially in developing nations – will dramatically alter the composition of the world population pyramid, creating both economic opportunities and challenges in the process.

The Changing World Population Pyramid

The following graphic charts how these changes affect the makeup of the world’s population.

World Population Pyramid transition

Over time, the shape of the world population pyramid is expected to shift from Stage 1 (high birth rates, high death rates) to something closer to Stage 4 (low birth rates, low death rates).

As the population distribution skews older, here is how population size and global median age will change:

YearGlobal Population SizeMedian Age
19502.6 billion23.6 years
20187.6 billion30.0 years
20509.7 billion36.1 years
207510.7 billion39.0 years
210011.2 billion41.6 years

Dates past 2018 are projections by the United Nations

Global median age is projected to surpass 40 years by the end of the century, and it will be considerably higher in many Western nations, especially in Japan and Europe.

With the future demographic composition looking very different than today, it will be fascinating to see how the economy responds to these potential tailwinds. Further, it will be even more interesting to see what role automation will play as the old-age dependency ratio hits historic highs.

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