How Global Health and Wealth Has Changed Over Two Centuries
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How Global Health and Wealth Has Changed Over Two Centuries

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How Global Health and Wealth Has Changed Over 221 Years

At the dawn of the 19th century, global life expectancy was only 28.5 years.

Outbreaks, war, and famine would still kill millions of people at regular intervals. These issues are still stubbornly present in 21st century society, but broadly speaking, the situation around the world has vastly improved. Today, most of humanity lives in countries where the life expectancy is above the typical retirement age of 65.

At the same time, while inequality remains a hot button topic within countries, income disparity between countries is slowing beginning to narrow.

This animated visualization, created by James Eagle, tracks the evolution of health and wealth factors in countries around the world. For further exploration, Gapminder also has a fantastic interactive chart that showcases the same dataset.

The Journey to the Upper-Right Quadrant

In general terms, history has seen health practices improve and countries become increasingly wealthy–trends that are reflected in this visualization. In fact, most countries drift towards the upper-right quadrant over the 221 years covered in the dataset.

However, that path to the top-right, which indicates high levels of both life expectancy and GDP per capita, is rarely a linear journey. Here are some of the noteworthy events and milestones to watch out for while viewing the animation.

1880s: Breaking the 50-Year Barrier
In the late 19th century, Nordic countries such as Sweden and Norway already found themselves past the 50-year life expectancy mark. This was a significant milestone considering the global life expectancy was a full 20 years shorter at the time. It wasn’t until the year 1960 that the global life expectancy would catch up.

1918: The Spanish Flu and WWI
At times, a confluence of factors can impact health and wealth in countries and regions. In this case, World War I coincided with one of the deadliest pandemics in history, leading to global implications. In the animation, this is abundantly clear as the entire cluster of circles takes a nose dive for a short period of time.

1933, 1960: Communist Famines
At various points in history, human decisions can have catastrophic consequences. This was the case in the Soviet Union (1933) and the People’s Republic of China (1960), where life expectancy plummeted during famines that killed millions of people. These extreme events are easy to spot in the animation due to the large populations of the countries in question.

1960s: Oil Economies Kick into High Gear
During this time, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia all experience massive booms in wealth, and in the following decade, smaller countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait rocket to the right edge of the visualization.

In following decades, both Iran and Iraq can be seen experiencing wild fluctuations in both health and wealth as regime changes and conflict begin to destabilize the region.

1990s: AIDS in Africa
In the animation, a number of countries plummet in unison at the end of the 20th century. These are sub-Saharan African countries that were hit hard by the AIDS pandemic. At its peak in the early ’00s, the disease accounted for more than half of deaths in some countries.

1995: Breaking the 65-Year Barrier
Global life expectancy reaches retirement age. At this point in time, there is a clear divide in both health and wealth between African and South Asian countries and the rest of the world. Thankfully, that gap is would continue to narrow in coming years.

1990-2000s: China’s Economic Rise
With a population well over a billion people, it’s impossible to ignore China in any global overview. Starting from the early ’90s, China begins its march from the left to right side of the chart, highlighting the unprecedented economic growth it experienced during that time.

What the Future Holds

If current trends continue, global life expectancy is expected to surpass the 80-year mark by 2100. And, sub-Saharan Africa, which has the lowest life expectancy today, is expected to mostly close the gap, reaching 75 years of age.

Wealth is also expected to increase nearly across the board, with the biggest gains coming from places like Vietnam, Nigeria, and the Philippines. Some experts are projecting the world economy as a whole to double in size by 2050.

There are always bumps along the way, but it appears that the journey to the upper-right quadrant is still very much underway.

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Economy

The $16 Trillion European Union Economy

This chart shows the contributors to the EU economy through a percentage-wise distribution of country-level GDP.

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The $16 Trillion European Union Economy

The European Union has the third-largest economy in the world, accounting for one-sixth of global trade. All together, 27 member countries make up one internal market allowing free movement of goods, services, capital and people.

But how did this sui generis (a class by itself) political entity come into being?

A Brief History of the EU

After the devastating aftermath of the World War II, Western Europe saw a concerted move towards regional peace and security by promoting democracy and protecting human rights.

Crucially, the Schuman Declaration was presented in 1950. The coal and steel industries of Western Europe were integrated under common management, preventing countries from turning on each other and creating weapons of war. Six countries signed on — the eventual founders of the EU.

Here’s a list of all 27 members of the EU and the year they joined.

CountryYear of entry
🇧🇪 Belgium1958
🇫🇷 France1958
🇩🇪 Germany1958
🇮🇹 Italy1958
🇱🇺 Luxembourg1958
🇳🇱 Netherlands1958
🇩🇰 Denmark1973
🇮🇪 Ireland1973
🇬🇷 Greece1981
🇵🇹 Portugal1986
🇪🇸 Spain1986
🇦🇹 Austria1995
🇫🇮 Finland1995
🇸🇪 Sweden1995
🇨🇾 Cyprus2004
🇨🇿 Czechia2004
🇪🇪 Estonia2004
🇭🇺 Hungary2004
🇱🇻 Latvia2004
🇱🇹 Lithuania2004
🇲🇹 Malta2004
🇵🇱 Poland2004
🇸🇰 Slovakia2004
🇸🇮 Slovenia2004
🇧🇬 Bulgaria2007
🇷🇴 Romania2007
🇭🇷 Croatia2013

Greater economic and security cooperation followed over the next four decades, along with the addition of new members. These tighter relationships disincentivized conflict, and Western Europe—after centuries of constant war—has seen unprecedented peace for the last 80 years.

The modern version of the EU can trace its origin to 1993, with the adoption of the name, ‘the European Union,’ the birth of a single market, and the promise to use a single currency—the euro.

Since then the EU has become an economic and political force to reckon with. Its combined gross domestic product (GDP) stood at $16.6 trillion in 2022, after the U.S. ($26 trillion) and China ($19 trillion.)

ℹ️ GDP is a broad indicator of the economic activity within a country. It measures the total value of economic output—goods and services—produced within a given time frame by both the private and public sectors.

Front Loading the EU Economy

For the impressive numbers it shows however, the European Union’s economic might is held up by three economic giants, per data from the International Monetary Fund. Put together, the GDPs of Germany ($4 trillion), France ($2.7 trillion) and Italy ($1.9 trillion) make up more than half of the EU’s entire economic output.

These three countries are also the most populous in the EU, and together with Spain and Poland, account for 66% of the total population of the EU.

Here’s a table of all 27 member states and the percentage they contribute to the EU’s gross domestic product.

RankCountry GDP (Billion USD)% of the EU Economy
1.🇩🇪 Germany4,031.124.26%
2.🇫🇷 France2,778.116.72%
3.🇮🇹 Italy1,997.012.02%
4.🇪🇸 Spain1,390.08.37%
5.🇳🇱 Netherlands990.65.96%
6.🇵🇱 Poland716.34.31%
7.🇸🇪 Sweden603.93.64%
8.🇧🇪 Belgium589.53.55%
9.🇮🇪 Ireland519.83.13%
10.🇦🇹 Austria468.02.82%
11.🇩🇰 Denmark386.72.33%
12.🇷🇴 Romania299.91.81%
13.🇨🇿 Czechia295.61.78%
14.🇫🇮 Finland281.41.69%
15.🇵🇹 Portugal255.91.54%
16.🇬🇷 Greece222.01.34%
17.🇭🇺 Hungary184.71.11%
18.🇸🇰 Slovakia112.40.68%
19.🇧🇬 Bulgaria85.00.51%
20.🇱🇺 Luxembourg82.20.49%
21.🇭🇷 Croatia69.40.42%
22.🇱🇹 Lithuania68.00.41%
23.🇸🇮 Slovenia62.20.37%
24.🇱🇻 Latvia40.60.24%
25.🇪🇪 Estonia39.10.24%
26.🇨🇾 Cyprus26.70.16%
27.🇲🇹 Malta17.20.10%
Total16,613.1100%

The top-heaviness continues. By adding Spain ($1.3 trillion) and the Netherlands ($990 billion), the top five make up nearly 70% of the EU’s GDP. That goes up to 85% when the top 10 countries are included.

That means less than half of the 27 member states make up $14 trillion of the $16 trillion EU economy.

Older Members, Larger Share

Aside from the most populous members having bigger economies, another pattern emerges, with the time the country has spent in the EU.

Five of the six founders of the EU—Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium—are in the top 10 biggest economies of the EU. Ireland and Denmark, the next entrants into the union (1973) are ranked 9th and 11th respectively. The bottom 10 countries all joined the EU post-2004.

The UK—which joined the bloc in 1973 and formally left in 2020—would have been the third-largest economy in the region at $3.4 trillion.

Sectoral Analysis of the EU

The EU has four primary sectors of economic output: services, industry, construction, and agriculture (including fishing and forestry.) Below is an analysis of some of these sectors and the countries which contribute the most to it. All figures are from Eurostat.

Services and Tourism

The EU economy relies heavily on the services sector, accounting for more than 70% of the value added to the economy in 2020. It also is the sector with the highest share of employment in the EU, at 73%.

In Luxembourg, which has a large financial services sector, 87% of the country’s gross domestic product came from the services sector.

Tourism economies like Malta and Cyprus also had an above 80% share of services in their GDP.

Industry

Meanwhile 20% of the EU’s gross domestic product came from industry, with Ireland’s economy having the most share (40%) in its GDP. Czechia, Slovenia and Poland also had a significant share of industry output.

Mining coal and lignite in the EU saw a brief rebound in output in 2021, though levels continued to be subdued.

RankSector% of the EU Economy
1.Services72.4%
2.Industry20.1%
3.Construction5.6%
4.Agriculture, forestry and fishing1.8%

Agriculture

Less than 2% of the EU’s economy relies on agriculture, forestry and fishing. Romania, Latvia, and Greece feature as contributors to this sector, however the share in total output in each country is less than 5%. Bulgaria has the highest employment (16%) in this sector compared to other EU members.

Energy

The EU imports nearly 60% of its energy requirements. Until the end of 2021, Russia was the biggest exporter of petroleum and natural gas to the region. After the war in Ukraine that share has steadily decreased from nearly 25% to 15% for petroleum liquids and from nearly 40% to 15% for natural gas, per Eurostat.

Headwinds, High Seas

The IMF has a gloomy outlook for Europe heading into 2023. War in Ukraine, spiraling energy costs, high inflation, and stagnant wage growth means that EU leaders are facing “severe trade-offs and tough policy decisions.”

Reforms—to relieve supply constraints in the labor and energy markets—are key to increasing growth and relieving price pressures, according to the international body. The IMF projects that the EU will grow 0.7% in 2023.

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