March 28, 2017

Human Conditions Improving at a Remarkable Speed

By Marian L. Tupy
On a number of previous occasions, I have written about the extent of human progress around the world, but the remarkable speed of improvements in the state of humanity should not go unnoticed. To that end, I have looked at some of the most important indicators of human wellbeing, especially in the poor countries, over the last decade (or, when the latest data is not available, ten years prior to the last data point). The results are encouraging and ought to give us reason for optimism.

1. GDP per capita in real 2010 dollars (2005-2015)
Global: $8,858 → $10,194 or a 15.1 percent increase
Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA): $1,363 → $1,660 or a 21.8 percent increase
India: $982 → $1,751 or a 78.3 percent increase
China: $2,738 → $6,498 or a 137.3 percent increase


2. Infant mortality (i.e., children under age of 1) per 1,000 live births (2005-2015)

Global: 44.3 → 31.7 or a 28.4 percent decline

SSA: 80 → 56.4 or a 29.5 percent decline

India: 55.8 → 37.9 or a 32.1 percent decline
China: 20.3 → 9.2 or a 54.7 percent decline


3. Life expectancy (2004-2014)

Global: 69 → 71.5 or a 3.6 percent increase

SSA: 52 → 58.6 or a 12.7 percent increase

India: 64.2 → 68 or a 5.9 percent increase
China: 73.4 → 75.8 or a 3.3 percent increase

4. Depth of the food deficit, kilocalories per person per day (2006-2016)*

Global: 129 → 88.4 or a 31.5 percent decline

SSA: 172.4 → 130 or a 24.6 percent decline
India: 152 → 109 or a 28.3 percent decline
China: 128 → 74 or a 42.2 percent decline

5. Undernourished persons, millions (2005-2015)**
Global: 884 → 685 or a 22.5 percent decline

Africa (incl. North Africa): 159 → 149 or a 6.3 percent decline

India: 233 → 194 or a 16.7 percent decline
China: 212 → 140 or an 81.1 percent decline


6. Undernourishment as a percentage of population (2005-2015)

Global: 22.5 → 18 or a 20 percent decline

Africa (incl. North Africa): 26.2 → 22.3 or a 14.9 percent decline

India: 20.9 → 15.3 or a 26.8 percent decline
China: 15.8 → 9.8 or a 38 percent decline


Obviously, the world is not a perfect place. As long as there are people who go hungry or die from preventable diseases, there will always be room for improvement. But, a realistic picture of the human condition should compare the imperfect present with a much more imperfect past (rather than with an imagined utopia in the future) and acknowledge the progress that humanity has already made.

*The depth of the food deficit indicates how many calories would be needed to lift the undernourished from their status, everything else being constant. The average intensity of food deprivation of the undernourished, estimated as the difference between the average dietary energy requirement and the average dietary energy consumption of the undernourished population (food-deprived), is multiplied by the number of undernourished to provide an estimate of the total food deficit in the country, which is then normalized by the total population.

**These are total numbers, which do not take into account population growth.

This first appeared in Reason.