The World Is Improving, But Most People Are Pessimistic

It only takes a few minutes of watching the news to get the feeling that the world is heading in a bad direction on many levels. Endless images of homicide investigations, natural disasters, car crashes, crimes, opioid addiction, inequality, drug busts, etc., etc., fill the airwaves on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, the news cycle thrives on fear and bad news, so mainstream networks find a way to fill up over 90% of programming with these troubling events. It’s addicting and sometimes anger-inducing, but is it representative of what’s really going on in the world?

The following six charts created by Oxford economist Max Roser and posted on the Visual Capitalist blog, tell an entirely different story. The world continues to improve on many important fronts. I first saw these charts in a Market Watch article by Shawn Langlois last week.


The World Over the Last Two Centuries

These improving megatrends come at a dark time when very few people globally are optimistic. According to a survey cited by Mr. Roser, only 6% of Americans say they believe the world is getting better. In Germany, that number is only 4%. Hardly anyone thinks the world is getting better. Frankly, I had no idea it was this bad.

But, as the charts above show, improvements are slowly but surely being made. Here are some the highlights in the study.

— The amount of people suffering in extreme poverty, which is defined as having to get by on less than $1.90 per day, has plunged from 75% of the global population in 1940, to 10% currently (source: World Bank).

— The percentage of those getting access to basic schooling has exploded from 17% in 1820 to 86% today.

— With the improvement in basic education, literacy has also surged from 12% of the population to 85% over the last 200 years.

— Freedom, believe it or not, is still going strong. In 1900, one in 100 people lived in a democracy. Today that number has swelled to 56 out of 100.

— Two centuries ago, diseases like whooping cough, tetanus and diphtheria ravaged populations. Today, 86% of people globally are vaccinated against them.

— Children are living longer. A lot longer. In 1920, a third of infants would die before they turned five. Today, the same child mortality rates have dropped to 4%.

Roser said the media is at least partly to blame for the pervasive pessimism that leads people to overlook our progress as a civilization. He points out in his original “Our World Data” post:

“The media is overly obsessed with reporting single events and with things that go wrong and does not nearly pay enough attention to the slow [positive] developments that reshape our world. Look at the news: plane crashes, terrorism attacks, natural disasters, election outcomes that we are not happy with. Positive developments on the other hand often happen very slowly and never make the headlines in the event-obsessed media.”

So, he believes an approach focusing solely on the data and long-term trends reveals a much rosier state of things.

“Stories about individual people are much more engaging – our minds like these stories – but they cannot be representative for how the world has changed. To achieve a representation of how the world has changed at large you have to tell many, many stories all at once; and that is statistics.”

Each family lifted out of poverty, each classroom that gets built, each village gaining access to basic vaccinations, etc., etc. 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 story.

In closing, today’s post is not meant to suggest that there aren’t plenty of negative and/or dangerous trends going on in the world today. There certainly are. Still, I found the trends illustrated in the six opening charts above quite uplifting. Feel free to share this with others.

One Response to The World Is Improving, But Most People Are Pessimistic

  1. Thanks for the positive worlwide information. I believe people generally belive the world is not getting better due to seeing a constant emphasis on negative news both at home and abroad (worldwide). We need a balanced reporting of news, both positive and negative. I tend to listen to NPR radio for their overall news coverage and unbiased analysis.

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