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The Global Inequality Gap, and How It’s Changed Over 200 Years

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The Global Inequality Gap, and How It's Changed Over 200 Years

How the Global Inequality Gap Has Changed In 200 Years

What makes a person healthy, wealthy, and wise? The UN’s Human Development Index (HDI) measures this by one’s life expectancy, average income, and years of education.

However, the value of each metric varies greatly depending on where you live. Today’s data visualization from Max Roser at Our World in Data summarizes five basic dimensions of development across countries—and how our average standards of living have evolved since 1800.

Health: Mortality Rates and Life Expectancy

Child mortality rates and life expectancy at birth are telltale signs of a country’s overall standard of living, as they indicate a population’s ability to access healthcare services.

Iceland stood at the top of these ranks in 2017, with only a 0.21% mortality rate for children under five years old. On the other end of the spectrum, Somalia had the highest child mortality rate of 12.7%—over three times the current global average.

While there’s a stark contrast between the best and worst performing countries, it’s clear that even Somalia has made significant strides since 1800. At that time, the global average child mortality rate was a whopping 43%.

Lower child mortality is also tied to higher life expectancy. In 1800, the average life expectancy was that of today’s millennial—only 29 years old:

Life Expectancy in 1800 by Continent

Today, the global average has shot up to 72.2 years, with areas like Japan exceeding this benchmark by more than a decade.

Education: Mean and Expected Years of Schooling

Education levels are measured in two distinct ways:

  • Mean years: the average number of years a person aged 25+ receives in their lifetime
  • Expected years: the total years a 2-year old child is likely to spend in school

In the 1800s, the mean and expected years of education were both less than a year—only 78 days to be precise. Low attendance rates occurred because children were expected to work during harvests, or contracted long-term illnesses that kept them at home.

Since then, education levels have drastically improved:

 Mean Years of SchoolingExpected Years of schooling 
HighestGermany 🇩🇪: 14.1 yearsAustralia 🇦🇺: 22.9 years
LowestBurkina Faso 🇧🇫: 1.5 yearsSouth Sudan 🇸🇸: 4.9 years
Global Average8.4 years12.7 years

Research shows that investing in education can greatly narrow the inequality gap. Just one additional year of school can:

  • Raise a person’s income by up to 10%
  • Raise average annual GDP growth by 0.37%
  • Reduce the probability of motherhood by 7.3%
  • Reduce the likelihood of child marriage by >5 percentage points
  • Source

    Education has a strong correlation with individual wealth, which cascades into national wealth. Not surprisingly, average income has ballooned significantly in two centuries as well.

    Wealth: Average GDP Per Capita

    Global inequality levels are the most stark when it comes to GDP per capita. While the U.S. stands at $54,225 per person in 2017, resource-rich Qatar brings in more than double this amount—an immense $116,936 per person.

    The global average GDP per capita is $15,469, but inequality heavily skews the bottom end of these values. In the Central African Republic, GDP per capita is only $661 today—similar to the average income two hundred years ago.

    A Virtuous Cycle

    These measures of development clearly feed into one another. Rising life expectancies are an indication of a society’s growing access to healthcare options. Compounded with more years of education, especially for women, this has had a ripple effect on declining fertility rates, contributing to higher per capita incomes.

    People largely agree on what goes into human well-being: life, health, sustenance, prosperity, peace, freedom, safety, knowledge, leisure, happiness… If they have improved over time, that, I submit, is progress.

    Steven Pinker

    As technology accelerates the pace of change across these indicators, will the global inequality gap narrow more, or expand even wider?

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Energy

Mapped: The World’s Nuclear Reactor Landscape

Which countries are turning to nuclear energy, and which are turning away? Mapping and breaking down the world’s nuclear reactor landscape.

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The World’s Changing Nuclear Reactor Landscape

View a more detailed version of the above map by clicking here

Following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, the most severe nuclear accident since Chernobyl, many nations reiterated their intent to wean off the energy source.

However, this sentiment is anything but universal—in many other regions of the world, nuclear power is still ramping up, and it’s expected to be a key energy source for decades to come.

Using data from the Power Reactor Information System, maintained by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the map above gives a comprehensive look at where nuclear reactors are subsiding, and where future capacity will reside.

Increasing Global Nuclear Use

Despite a dip in total capacity and active reactors last year, nuclear power still generated around 10% of the world’s electricity in 2019.

Global Nuclear Reactors and Electrical Capacity

Part of the increased capacity came as Japan restarted some plants and European countries looked to replace aging reactors. But most of the growth is driven by new reactors coming online in Asia and the Middle East.

China is soon to have more than 50 nuclear reactors, while India is set to become a top-ten producer once construction on new reactors is complete.

Asia's Growing Nuclear Footprint

Decreasing Use in Western Europe and North America

The slight downtrend from 450 operating reactors in 2018 to 443 in 2019 was the result of continued shutdowns in Europe and North America. Home to the majority of the world’s reactors, the two continents also have the oldest reactors, with many being retired.

At the same time, European countries are leading the charge in reducing dependency on the energy source. Germany has pledged to close all nuclear plants by 2022, and Italy has already become the first country to completely shut down their plants.

Despite leading in shutdowns, Europe still emerges as the most nuclear-reliant region for a majority of electricity production and consumption.

world-nuclear-landscape-supplemental-3

In addition, some countries are starting to reassess nuclear energy as a means of fighting climate change. Reactors don’t produce greenhouse gases during operation, and are more efficient (and safer) than wind and solar per unit of electricity.

Facing steep emission reduction requirements, a variety of countries are looking to expand nuclear capacity or to begin planning for their first reactors.

A New Generation of Nuclear Reactors?

For those parties interested in the benefits of nuclear power, past accidents have also led towards a push for innovation in the field. That includes studies of miniature nuclear reactors that are easier to manage, as well as full-size reactors with robust redundancy measures that won’t physically melt down.

Additionally, some reactors are being designed with the intention of utilizing accumulated nuclear waste—a byproduct of nuclear energy and weapon production that often had to be stored indefinitely—as a fuel source.

With some regions aiming to reduce reliance on nuclear power, and others starting to embrace it, the landscape is certain to change.

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Politics

How Much Do Countries Spend on Healthcare Compared to the Military?

Every year, governments spend trillions on healthcare and defense. But how much is spent per person, and how does this compare by country?

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Healthcare vs. Military Spending, by Country

Keeping citizens both healthy and secure are key priorities for many national governments around the world—but ultimately, decisions must be made on how tax dollars are spent to accomplish these objectives, and funding must fall into one bucket or another.

This infographic from PixlParade examines how much 46 different countries put towards healthcare and military spending in 2018, per capita.

Head to Head: Healthcare versus Military

Data for government and compulsory healthcare spending comes from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Note that these figures do not include spending through private insurance or out-of-pocket expenses.

Meanwhile, the data for military spending comes from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

CountryHealth spending (Per capita, 2018 US$)Military spending (Per capita, 2018 US$)
U.S.$9,008.77$2,086.50
Norway$5,361.00$1,323.90
Germany$5,262.83$559.50
Switzerland$4,687.26$546.00
Sweden$4,623.68$574.90
Netherlands$4,461.30$651.50
Denmark$4,441.07$792.50
Luxembourg$4,385.66$650.80
France$4,310.55$791.00
Austria$4,137.25$381.00
Belgium$3,868.82$421.60
Japan$3,787.74$366.50
Canada$3,719.86$613.10
Ireland$3,629.43$229.80
UK$3,336.55$743.10
Finland$3,331.65$680.30
Australia$3,311.33$1,078.00
NZ$3,188.39$532.30
Czhechia$2,632.67$254.10
Italy$2,574.96$458.70
Malta$2,448.73$152.20
Spain$2,414.69$381.70
Slovenia$2,227.77$254.80
Portugal$1,906.23$431.00
South Korea$1,848.76$841.70
Israel$1,828.40$2,357.50
Estonia$1,744.57$458.60
Lithuania$1,599.15$377.10
Croatia$1,553.67$232.50
Poland$1,511.18$317.50
Hungary$1,493.01$184.60
Romania$1,344.34$223.50
Greece$1,331.19$547.10
Chile$1,282.59$296.10
Latvia$1,111.67$375.20
Cyprus$1,103.03$374.30
Bulgaria$1,042.85$136.30
Turkey$946.83$238.60
Russia$873.00$421.20
Colombia$864.16$204.10
Mexico$582.05$46.30
Brazil$388.98$134.50
South Africa$267.85$63.50
China$249.83$177.60
Indonesia$55.62$28.20
India$18.80$49.00
Source: OECDSource: SIPRI

Note: There are minor discrepancies in comparing table data to original sources due to recent estimate updates. Figures for Brazil, South Africa, China, Indonesia, and India come from the World Bank (2017).

The Top 10 Healthcare Spenders

The U.S. leads the world in government healthcare spending at $9,008 per capita – over 1.5 times that of Norway, the next-highest country examined.

CountryPer capita health spending% of GDP% of health spending
U.S.$9,008.7714.3%84.7%
Norway$5,361.008.6%85.3%
Germany$5,262.839.7%84.6%
Switzerland$4,687.267.6%64.4%
Sweden$4,623.689.3%85.1%
Netherlands$4,461.308.2%82.1%
Denmark$4,441.078.5%83.9%
Luxembourg$4,385.664.4%84.1%
France$4,310.559.4%83.6%
Austria$4,137.257.7%74.7%

While per-capita government spending on healthcare in the U.S. is the highest in the world, this has not necessarily brought about better outcomes (such as longer life expectancy) compared to other developed nations.

It’s also worth mentioning that the above figures do not cover all healthcare costs incurred by citizens, as they do not account for private insurance spending or out-of-pocket expenses. According to OECD data, these additional costs tend to be the highest in places like Switzerland and the United States.

The Top 10 Military Spenders

Israel has the highest rate of military spending per capita, and has the distinction of being the only country on this list to invest more in defense than in healthcare.

CountryPer capita military spending% of GDPTotal expenditure, US$M
Israel$2,357.505.3%$19,759M
U.S.$2,086.50 3.3%$682,491M
Norway$1,323.90 1.6%$7,067M
Australia$1,078.00 1.9%$26,840M
South Korea$841.70 2.5%$43,070M
Denmark$792.50 1.3%$4,559M
France$791.00 1.3%$51,410M
UK$743.101.8%$49,892M
Finland$680.30 1.4%$3,757M
Netherlands$651.501.2%$11,115M

Although the United States comes in second place here as well, in absolute terms, the U.S. puts more money into military expenditures than many other countries combined, at almost $700 billion per year.

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