If I were to ask you whether you think the state of the world is improving or declining, and you were to answer the latter, I could tell you two things. First, that you are not alone in thinking that things are going downhill on a global scale – research conducted by the late Swedish academic Hans Rosling indicates that a vast number of people living in developed countries are grossly ignorant regarding the current progress on global issues such as world poverty, life expectancy, literacy, and serious environmental issues.
Second, you should know that we are, in fact, living in better times than our parents or grandparents – even though every day the news focuses on natural disasters, terrorism, and disease on a global scale, instead of the good news going on. And yes, these are real, life-impacting issues that need to be addressed, but studies worldwide indicate that this is a fantastic time to be alive.
So, is the world actually becoming a better place?
1. Life expectancy is up and child mortality is down
Here’s the good news we can definitely get on board with: our old are living longer and our young have better survival rates than ever before. The BBC notes that the average life expectancy of someone born during the Industrial Revolution in Europe did not go over 35 years of age, due to problems such as women dying in childbirth, babies dying very young, and diseases that were running strife.
Today, people living in the same spot can expect to live for 80 years on average, while scientists have also estimated that the first person to reach 200 years of age has already been born.
According to a report by Forbes, a little more than 200 years ago, humanity lost more than 40% of our newborns before the age of five. Today, the percentage of babies and toddlers dying before they can walk has dwindled to a small fraction of that. This is largely due to massive strides made in science, medicine, improvements in sanitation, and the awareness surrounding germs and bacteria. We also have much better housing and enjoy a better diet than before.
2. Poverty rates are getting better
People are quick to talk about the “good old days” as if less than 80 years ago, 75% of the global population was not stuck in extreme poverty. The good news in that respect: in 1990, it was down to 37%, and by today, this percentage has dropped to less than 10%, according to a report by Our World in Data.
While there are still strides to be made in this respect, the statistics clearly show that poverty can be greatly reduced, even in the midst of growing world population numbers.
3. Literacy rates are climbing high
If education is a tool, the world’s population is becoming more and more adept at a specific skill that you need today more than ever – the ability to read and write. In the 1800s, the percentage of the world population who could pick up a book and make sense of the words was less than 15%. Today, the opposite is true, and what’s amazing is that reading material has become increasingly available in most countries.
If you want to be able to read and write in 2019, it’s so much easier than in the past. You can also learn a different language with much greater ease than a few hundred years ago, and more books are being translated into different languages than ever before.
Find out how reading can increase your longevity in a big way.
4. We have fewer conflict situations
Yes, there are still hopelessly too many innocent people living in a daily struggle of civil war, terrorist attacks, farm murders, crime, and conflict. But the good news on this is that here too, things have improved dramatically. For example, take into consideration that for the first time in centuries, Western Europe has enjoyed three consecutive generations’ worth of time free from official wartime.
Moreover, the absolute number of war deaths has steadily been declining since 1945. While those years saw half a million people dying indirect violence in war, 2016 shows a sharp contrast. All battle-related deaths in conflicts involving at least one state numbered 87 432.
In his bestseller, “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker explains why people are prone to thinking that things are getting worse than they really are, and why each generation thinks the next one is headed for disaster.
“Think about it: If you arrived in a new city and saw that it was raining, would you conclude, “The rain has gotten worse”? How could you tell, unless you knew how much it had rained before that day? Yet people read about a war or terrorist attack this morning and conclude that violence is increasing, which is just as illogical.”
As mentioned earlier, this is not meant to paint the world as just being peachy. Pinker mentions several blips and setbacks, such as the Spanish flu pandemic, the post-1960’s crime boom, and the horrific deaths of World War II. But we need to recognize that we are definitely making progress as a species – and this is good news for humanity’s future.
“Progress takes place when setbacks are fewer, less severe, or stopped altogether,” he says in an interview with the Hamilton Spectator. “Clearly we have to be mindful of the worst possible setback, namely nuclear war, and of the risk of permanent reversals, such as the worst-case climate change scenarios. Of course, life is bad for those people with the worst possible lives, and that will be true until the rates of war, crime, disease, and poverty are exactly zero. The point is that there are far fewer people living in nightmares of war and disease.“