In recent decades, extreme world poverty has declined significantly and many millions of people have joined the swelling ranks of the middle class – particularly in China.
While these economic shifts are positive, it’s the other end of the global wealth spectrum that attracts the most attention. A high degree of wealth creation is amassed by those at the top of the economic pyramid.
The Top-Heavy Wealth Spectrum
Today, slightly less than 1% of the world’s adult population occupies the $1M+ wealth range. Despite their small numbers, this elite group collectively controls 46% of the world’s wealth, valued at approximately $129 trillion.
On the flip side of the equation, 70% of world’s population fall into the sub-$10K wealth band. This majority of people around the world collectively control a mere 2.7% of the world’s wealth.
Even as “the rich get richer”, there is good news for the majority. The percentage of people in that lowest wealth band has been shrinking over the years.
Not only is money concentrated among a small portion of the population, those people tend to gravitate towards global cities such as London, Hong Kong, and New York.
In fact, 70% of ultra high net worth individuals (UHNWIs) – persons with investable assets of $30 million or more – reside in just ten cities around the world.
According to Credit Suisse, emerging markets now account for 22% of growth in the UHNWIs category – up from just 6% growth in 2000 – with China alone adding over 16,000 UHNWIs to the mix. Many members of this elite class may generate their wealth in emerging economies around the world, but as we can see from the map above, the world’s richest people end up very concentrated, geographically speaking.
Global Wealth, by Continent
As the visualization below demonstrates, wealth accumulates in Europe and North America. This trend is so pronounced that it only becomes evident once the scale is adjusted to see the detail in the upper percentiles.
One thing is for certain – the world is changing quickly, and just as this graph would have looked very different 20 years ago, global wealth will almost certainly look different in 20 years time.
Visualizing Literacy Rates Around the World
Global literacy rates have increased in the last few decades, but some countries are still lagging behind, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Visualizing Literacy Rates Around the World
For many people around the world, the ability to read is an essential tool that’s needed for day-to-day life. Yet, despite its importance, approximately 773 million people across the globe do not have access to this basic, often life-saving skill. When it comes to literacy rates, which countries are leading the way, and which ones are lagging behind?
This graphic by Eleonora Nazander visualizes literacy rates in over 150+ countries and provides a breakdown of male versus female literacy rates in each country, using data from UNESCO.
Countries with The Highest Literacy Rates
From 1960 to 2015, global literacy has grown from 42% to 86%—an approximate 4% increase every five years.
While overall literacy rates have increased, some countries have seen more growth than others. Out of the countries included in the dataset, here’s a look at the countries with the highest literacy rates, according to the latest available figures:
|Country||Female Literacy Rate||Male Literacy Rate|
|🇸🇲 San Marino||99.9%||99.9%|
All countries on this list have nationwide literacy rates above 99%, with Ukraine and Uzbekistan both clocking in at 100%.
One country on this list that’s worth touching on is Cuba. The country’s high literacy rate of 99.8% is arguably the result of a campaign that dictator Fidel Castro launched in 1961, which aimed to abolish illiteracy in the country. In less than a year, more than 700,000 Cubans learned basic literary skills.
While Castro’s government imposed rigid censorship and is labeled by critics as an oppressive regime, this literacy campaign also likely influenced surrounding Latin American countries, leading to improved literacy rates in the region.
Countries with the Lowest Literacy Rates
On the other end of the spectrum, here’s a look at the countries on the list with the lowest literacy rates. As the data shows, a staggering amount of the world’s illiterate population is in Sub-Saharan Africa:
|Country||Female Literacy Rate||Male Literacy Rate|
|🇸🇸 South Sudan||28.9%||40.3%|
|🇧🇫 Burkina Faso||32.7%||50.1%|
|🇨🇫 Central African Republic||25.8%||50.7%|
|🇸🇱 Sierra Leone||34.9%||51.6%|
|🇨🇮 Côte d'Ivoire||40.5%||53.7%|
|🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea||57.9%||65.3%|
The country with the lowest literacy rate covered in this data is Chad, coming in at just 14.0% for female literacy and 38.9% for male literacy. This is due to a number of factors, one being poor access to education. In 2019, more than 700,000 children weren’t in school, and almost 500,000 of them were female.
However, it is worth noting that Chad’s youth population is much more literate than its senior population—over 30% of youth (aged 15-24) are literate, compared to just 7% of seniors (aged 65+) which shows how education has improved over the years—even if there’s still a long way to go.
Gender Disparities in Global Literacy
A broad target in the official list of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 4 is to close the gender gap in education. And as the data shows, some regions are already meeting this target, with most countries in Central Asia, Europe, Northern America, Eastern and South-Eastern Asia, and Latin America already at virtual gender parity for literacy.
That being said, countries in Northern Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Western Asia, and Southern Asia are still showing significant disparities between genders. Here’s a look at the countries with the largest gender gaps in literacy:
|Country||Male literacy||Female literacy||Gender Gap (p.p.)|
|🇨🇫 Central African Republic||50.7%||25.8%||24.9%|
Guinea-Bissau in West Africa has the greatest gender literacy gap, with a literacy rate for males that is 31.4 percentage points higher than females. One possible reason for the gap is the high instances of child marriage in the country—approximately 37% of women are married before they’re 18.
While various organizations have created programs to help girls in Guinea-Bissau stay in school, a gap of this size will likely take considerable time and effort to close.
Visualizing Women’s Economic Rights Around the World
In recent years, many economies have made women’s rights a priority, yet only 10 countries in the world offer full legal protections to women.
Visualizing Women’s Economic Rights in Each Country
In recent years, many economies have made women’s rights a priority by eliminating job restrictions, working to reduce the gender wage gap, or changing legislation related to marriage and parenthood.
Still, many laws continue to inhibit women’s ability to enter the workforce or start a business—and even to travel outside their homes in the same way as men. In fact, on average globally, women have just three-quarters of the economic rights of men.
This map uses data from the Women, Business and Law 2021 report by the World Bank, to visualize women’s economic rights around the world.
According to the World Bank, only 10 countries offer full legal protections to women, and all of them are in the Northern Hemisphere.
In ranking countries, the institution considers indicators like equal remuneration, legal rights, and mobility. A score of 100 means that women are on equal legal standing with men across all areas measured.
|10||Hong Kong, China||89.4|
|14||São Tomé and Príncipe||86.3|
|16||Bosnia and Herzegovina||85.0|
|18||Puerto Rico (US)||83.8|
|20||United Arab Emirates||82.5|
|26||Congo, Dem. Rep.||78.8|
|29||Central African Republic||76.9|
|32||Trinidad and Tobago||75.0|
|37||St. Kitts and Nevis||71.3|
|41||St. Vicent and the Grenadines||68.1|
|44||Antigua and Barbuda||66.3|
|52||Papua New Guinea||60.0|
|76||West Bank and Gaza||26.3|
According to the report, there are 20 economies in the world where women still have half or fewer of the legal economic rights of men.
Under Taliban rule, for example, women in Afghanistan have limited access to education and work. In the Gaza Strip, women must have the permission of a male guardian to travel.
Yet, some differences are also seen in developed countries.
In the U.S, women still earn an average of about 82 cents for each dollar earned by men, and the gap across many countries in Europe is similar. Meanwhile, women are represented in just 23% of seats in national parliaments globally, and make up just 13% of agricultural landholders.
The Shadow Pandemic
COVID-19 has exacerbated existing inequalities that disadvantage girls and women, including barriers to attend school and maintain jobs, according to the United Nations.
In fact, new research shows that the sectors that have been most affected by the pandemic so far are those with high levels of women workers, including the restaurant and hospitality business, as well as the travel sector.
While leaders debate recovery in a post-pandemic world, rights equality remains a central topic for social and economic development.
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