01 / 05
Progress on Girls’ Access to Education

Blog Post | Human Development

1,000 Bits of Good News You May Have Missed in 2023

A necessary balance to the torrent of negativity.

Reading the news can leave you depressed and misinformed. It’s partisan, shallow, and, above all, hopelessly negative. As Steven Pinker from Harvard University quipped, “The news is a nonrandom sample of the worst events happening on the planet on a given day.”

So, why does Human Progress feature so many news items? And why did I compile them in this giant list? Here are a few reasons:

  • Negative headlines get more clicks. Promoting positive stories provides a necessary balance to the torrent of negativity.
  • Statistics are vital to a proper understanding of the world, but many find anecdotes more compelling.
  • Many people acknowledge humanity’s progress compared to the past but remain unreasonably pessimistic about the present—not to mention the future. Positive news can help improve their state of mind.
  • We have agency to make the world better. It is appropriate to recognize and be grateful for those who do.

Below is a nonrandom sample (n = ~1000) of positive news we collected this year, separated by topic area. Please scroll, skim, and click. Or—to be even more enlightened—read this blog post and then look through our collection of long-term trends and datasets.



Farming robots and drones

Food abundance

Genetic modification

Indoor farming

Lab-grown produce


Other innovations

Conservation and Biodiversity

Big cats




Other comebacks



Rivers and lakes

Surveillance and discovery

Rewilding and conservation


Culture and tolerance

Gender equality

General wellbeing


Treatment of animals

Energy and natural Resources



Fossil fuels

Other energy

Recycling and resource efficiency

Resource abundance

Environment and pollution

Climate change

Disaster resilience

Air pollution

Water pollution

Growth and development


Economic growth

Housing and urbanization

Labor and employment



Disability and assistive technology

Dementia and Alzheimer’s


Heart disease and stroke

Other non-communicable diseases



Other communicable diseases

Maternal care

Fertility and birth control

Mental health and addiction

Weight and nutrition

Longevity and mortality 

Surgery and emergency medicine

Measurement and imaging

Health systems

Other innovations



    Artificial intelligence



    Construction and manufacturing


    Robotics and automation

    Autonomous vehicles


    Other innovations


    AI in science


    Chemistry and materials






      Blog Post | Health & Medical Care

      Why Are We So Gloomy?

      Our evolved instincts are making us more anxious and depressed than we should be.

      Summary: Many young people today are pessimistic about the future of the planet and humanity, believing that environmental degradation, poverty, violence, and inequality are getting worse. However, this gloomy outlook is not supported by the facts, which show remarkable improvements in living standards, health, education, peace, and prosperity over the last century. This article explores why people are so prone to pessimism and how to overcome it by examining the evidence of human progress.

      Do you believe that the world is coming to an end? If so, you are not alone.

      In 2021, researchers at the University of Bath polled 10,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 25 in Australia, Brazil, Finland, France, Great Britain, India, Nigeria, the Philippines, Portugal, and the United States. The researchers found that, on average, 83 percent of respondents thought that “people have failed to care for the planet.” Seventy-five percent thought that the “future is frightening.” Fifty-six percent thought that “humanity is doomed.” Fifty-five percent thought that they will have “less opportunity than [their] parents.” Finally, 39 percent stated that they were “hesitant to have children.”

      The study remains one of the most comprehensive surveys of young people’s perception of the environmental state of the planet. But is this kind of doom warranted? The following global statistics paint an entirely different picture:

      Between 1950 and 2020, the average inflation-adjusted income per person rose from $4,158 to $16,904, or 307 percent. Between 1960 and 2019, the average life expectancy, rose from 50.9 years to 72.9 years, or 43.2 percent. (Unfortunately, the pandemic reduced that number to 72.2 years.)

      Between 2000 and 2020, the homicide rate fell from 6.85 per 100,000 to 5.77, or 16 percent.

      Deaths from inter-state wars fell from a high of 596,000 in 1950 to a low of 49,000 in 2020, or 92 percent (though the war between Russia and Ukraine is bound to increase that number).

      The rates of extreme poverty have plummeted, with the share of people living on less than $1.90 per day declining from 36 percent in 1990 to 8.7 percent in 2019. Though, once again, the pandemic has temporarily worsened that number somewhat.

      Between 1969 and 2019, the average infant mortality rate per 1,000 live births fell from 89.7 to 20.9, or 77 percent.

      Between 1961 and 2018, the daily supply of calories rose from 2,192 to 2,928, or 34 percent. Today, even in Africa, obesity is a growing concern.

      The gross primary school enrollment rate rose from 89 percent in 1970 to 100 percent in 2018. The gross secondary school enrollment rate rose from 40 percent to 76 percent over the same period. Finally, the gross tertiary school enrollment rate rose from 9.7 percent to 38 percent.

      The literacy rate among men aged 15 and older rose from 74 percent in 1975 to 90 percent in 2018. The literacy rate among women aged 15 and older rose from 56 percent in 1976 to 83 percent in 2018.

      In 2018, 90 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 24 were literate. That number was almost 93 percent among men of the same age. The age-old literacy gap between the sexes has all but disappeared.

      There is plenty of good news on the global environmental front as well:

      The chance of a person dying in a natural catastrophe — earthquake, flood, drought, storm, wildfire, landslide or epidemic — fell by almost 99 percent over the last century.

      Between 1982 and 2016, the global tree canopy cover increased by an area larger than Alaska and Montana combined.

      In 2017, the World Database on Protected Areas reported that 15 percent of the planet’s land surface was covered by protected areas. That’s an area almost double the size of the U.S.

      That year, marine protected areas covered nearly seven percent of the world’s oceans. That’s an area more than twice the size of South America.

      There is more good news for the fish: Since 2012, more than half of all seafood consumed came from aquaculture, as opposed to the fish caught in the wild.

      And while it is true that the total amount of CO2 emitted throughout the world is still rising, CO2 emissions in rich countries are falling both in totality and on a per capita basis.

      With so much good news around us, why are we so gloomy? We have evolved to look out for danger. That was the best way to survive when the world was much more threatening. But, while the world has changed, our genes have not. That’s why the front pages of the newspapers are always filled with the most horrific stories. If it bleeds, it leads.

      To make matters worse, the media compete with one another for a finite number of eyeballs. So, presenting stories in the most dramatic light pays dividends. Or, as one study recently found, for a headline of average length, “each additional negative word increased the click-through rate by 2.3%.” And so, in a race to the bottom, all media coverage got much darker over the last two decades.

      We are literally scaring ourselves to death, with rates of anxiety, depression and even suicide rising in some parts of the world. To maintain your mental composure and to keep matters in perspective, follow the trendlines, not the headlines. You will discover that the world is in a much better shape than it appears. You will be more cheerful and, most importantly, accurately informed.

      This article was originally published at RealClearPolicy on May 31st, 2023.

      Blog Post | Wealth & Poverty

      Low-Cost Private Schools Are a Lifeline for the Poor

      Increasing access to affordable, high-quality education leads to better futures for children in poverty.

      Twenty years ago this week – on Indian Republic Day, 26 January 2000 – I wandered into the slums behind the Charminar, in the Old City of Hyderabad, and my life changed forever.

      Building on my PhD at what is now the UCL Institute of Education, I had become an expert on private education. Twenty years ago, everyone knew that private education was just for the elite and upper middle classes and I was in India doing consultancy work for the International Finance Corporation, the private arm of the World Bank, evaluating the elite private schools in the area. However, for whatever reason I had always felt that my life should be about serving less privileged communities.

      So, on a day off from consultancy, I went into Hyderabad’s slums, down an alleyway and found a small school in a residential building. It wasn’t a state school, but a low-cost private one, charging in those days about $1 a month. Then I found another, and another, and soon I was connected to a federation of 500 of these low-cost private schools, serving poor and low-income communities across the region. I spent as much time as I could in these schools after finishing my daily meetings in the elite colleges that had initially brought me to Hyderabad. I watched lesson after lesson and witnessed young energetic teachers educating classrooms full of children, often in extremely impressive ways.

      I remember going back to my hotel room in an upmarket part of the city and thinking that maybe the different parts of my life could fit together after all. I was an expert in private education, and in India private education seemed as much about the poor and disadvantaged as anyone. My life felt suddenly complete.

      For many years I ploughed a lonely furrow, trying to convince those with power and influence that private education was good for the poor. Now, 20 years later, the extraordinary, disruptive revolution of low-cost private schools that is sweeping across the developing world is increasingly acknowledged, and sometimes even respected.

      In both urban slums and rural villages, poorer parents are abandoning public schools en masse and sending their children to low-cost private schools, typically created by educational entrepreneurs. These private schools are ubiquitous. In Lagos State, Nigeria, for instance, there are 14,000 low-cost private schools, enrolling 2.12 million children, some 70% of preschool and primary aged children. Research from Nairobi (Kenya), Kampala (Uganda) and Accra (Ghana) gives similar results – the highest percentage is in Kampala, where 84% of primary aged children in poor areas are in private education.

      Similarly, in urban India at least 70% of children are in independent private schools, while the comprehensive Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) shows 30% of rural children in private schools, a figure that is growing each year. Extrapolation from recent studies indicates there are roughly 92 million children in India who attend around 450,000 low-cost private schools.

      The private schools are better than the state schools, where there is a lack of accountability; research has shown teachers in state schools typically teach only half of the time they are meant to. It’s no surprise that a review by the Department for International Development found children in low-cost private schools outperforming those in public schools, even after controlling for socio-economic background variables.

      The private schools don’t typically suffer from gender bias and are affordable, even for families on the poverty line. And the majority of low-cost private schools are run as small businesses by educational entrepreneurs (with a minority run by religious organisations and charities), without subsidies from the state or philanthropic organisation. This means that low-cost private schools are already a fully sustainable solution to the problem of improving educational standards for all.

      But there are still difficulties to be overcome. Sometimes governments try to close these schools altogether. More commonly they pass regulations that impose impossible conditions, such as the need for very large playgrounds in areas of urban overcrowding, or the insistence that all teachers must achieve the same level of certification and pay as their government counterparts, even though this would make it impossible for the schools to charge low fees.

      So, the struggle continues. The work that began for me 20 years ago in the slums of India continues to this day. I’m currently building a team at the University of Buckingham to continue to champion the successes of low-cost private schools globally. Providing burdensome government regulation doesn’t get in the way, low-cost private schools and the education they provide for millions of poor children will continue to thrive.

      This originally appeared in CapX.

      Blog Post | Primary Education

      How Access to Education Will Carry on Booming

      The total global average length of schooling in 1870 was only 0.5 years, by 2010 that figure stood at 8.5 years.

      Years of schooling, global population weighted average increases.

      One of the real markers of our progress in recent decades is the increased length of formal schooling and the amount of time people are spending in educational settings. That was not always so. Throughout human history, most people were illiterate and oblivious to everything except for their immediate surroundings.

      Not everyone is naturally academic, but most people think that the acquisition of knowledge is preferable to a life of total ignorance – as witnessed by the great lengths that typical parents go to in order to ensure quality education for their kids. Thankfully, formal schooling is increasingly available and obtainable throughout the world.

      Informal learning is, of course, as old as humanity. Before the advent of writing, however, all of the information that people needed to act in the world was passed down the generations orally. It was only 5,500 years ago that first forms of writing emerged. Early texts tended to deal with codification of laws, keeping of accounts and writing down history.

      By and large, schooling was limited to a small sliver of urban-dwelling, freeborn men, and included imperial administrators, tax collectors and merchants. Peasants, who constituted between 80 and 90 per cent of the world’s population until the Industrial Revolution, were almost always too poor to pay for schooling. In any case, low agricultural productivity meant that everyone, including peasants’ children, had to work the land in order to produce enough food to survive.

      By the time of classical antiquity, schools were firmly established in Greece, Rome, India and China. While schooling changed a great deal over the last 2,500 years, education was generally short in duration and restricted to a small number of subjects, including reading, writing, arithmetic, theology, law, astronomy, metaphysics, ethics and medical science.

      As late as 1870, the total length of schooling at all levels of education for people between the ages of 25 and 64 is estimated to have been only about 0.5 years. In a handful of outliers, such as Switzerland and the United States, it was as high as four years. In France and the United Kingdom, it averaged less than a year. In the world’s underdeveloped regions, such as sub-Saharan Africa and much of Asia, schooling was negligible and would remain so for decades to come.

      Things have changed, of course, and human beings throughout the world enjoy more schooling than ever before. To produce the chart above, I have used two datasets compiled by professors Robert Barro from Harvard University and Jong-Wha Lee from Korea University.

      The first dataset covered the period between 1870 and 2010, while the second dataset consists of projections between 2015 and 2040. Each dataset contains estimates of educational attainment for the population between the ages of 25 and 64, expressed in terms of years of schooling. The first historical dataset contains the estimated educational attainment in 89 countries and the second projection dataset contains the same data for 146 countries.

      The world averages are weighted by population and show the total estimated average years of schooling, as well as the estimates of average years of primary, secondary and tertiary schooling.

      As we can see, the total global average length of schooling in 1870 was only 0.5 years. Of that number, primary education accounted for 0.47 years and secondary education for 0.03 years. Tertiary education, while certainly present in Western Europe, North America and part of Asia, was too insignificant to register at a global level. By 2010, Barro and Lee estimate, the global average length of schooling at all levels of education stood at 8.56 years. That year, primary, secondary and tertiary schooling amounted to 4.85 years, 3.23 years and 0.48 years respectively.

      By 2040, the four measures of schooling will increase to 10.52 years (total), 5.03 years (primary), 4.69 years (secondary) and 0.8 years (tertiary).

      In 2040, a new study in the Lancet estimates, the global life expectancy will reach 74 years for men and 80 years for women. That means that men will spend over 14 percent of their lives in school, while women will spend over 13 percent of their lives in school. Contrast that with 2010. Eight years ago, global life expectancy for men and women was 68.6 years and 72.8 years respectively. That means that men and women spent 12.5 percent and 11.8 percent of their lives learning.

      The relationship between education and human development is a complex one. Schooling does not make people freer, just look at Cuba, or electorates wiser, just look at Argentina. But, education increases human capital, which under conditions of relative freedom can contribute to economic growth and development. Moreover, knowledge is itself an inherently a good thing. Of which we could all use a bit more.

      This first appeared in CapX.