For many of us, 2020 is certainly a year that we would like to forget. Whether it’s the news, social media or just conversations with family members or friends, bad news seems to find its way into many of our interactions. The constant negativity can make it easy to believe the world is getting worse on a daily basis.
In reality, there is no question that this is the greatest time in history to be alive. To kick off 2021 with some positivity, I present 21 facts to illustrate how human ingenuity and innovation have changed the world for the better.
- 200 years ago, 94% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty. Just 40 years ago, that number was 45% of the world’s population. Today, 9% of the world lives in extreme poverty.
- From 1990-2015, the number of people living in extreme poverty fell by an average of 128,000 people each day.
- Up until the late 1800’s, a quarter of all children died in the first year of life and almost half died before age 15. Today over 95% of children reach their 15th birthday.
- Every single country in the world today has a lower infant or child mortality rate than it had in 1950.
- Two centuries ago, the life expectancy in the richest country in the world, the Netherlands, was just 40 years, and in no country was it above age 45. Today the poorest country in the world, Congo, the life expectancy is 60 years and in no country is the life expectancy below 50.
- Nathan Rothschild was likely the richest man in the world when he died in 1836. His cause of death was an infection that today could be treated with antibiotics available to most of the world’s population.
- As late as 1913, 61 U.S. workers per 100,000 died in work related accidents. That number fell to 3.2 per 100,000 in 2015. A 95% reduction in just over 100 years.
- Retirement is still a fairly new idea. In the past, most people simply worked until they died. In 1870, almost 90% of men over age 65 still worked. Today, it is less than 20%
- In 1900, people typically worked 10 hours a day, 6 days a week. It wasn’t until the 1940’s that we came to know our standard 40-hour, 5-day workweek.
- Since 1960, the fraction of a person’s life taken up by work has fallen by 25% thanks to shorter workweeks, more paid time off, and longer retirements.
- In 1920, the average household spent 11.5 hours a week on laundry. Today that number is down to roughly 1.5 hours.
- In 1910, a typical American household would spend 42 hours a week on food preparation. By 2008, that number was down to roughly 7 hours a week.
- Between 1961 and 2009, the amount of land used to grow food increased by 12%, but the amount of food that was grown increased by 300%.
- Due in part to increased farmland efficiency, global forest coverage has increased by 1.4 million square miles in the last 35 years. Roughly the combined size of Texas and Alaska.
- Early in the 19th century, just 12% of the world could read and write. Today it is 83%.
- In 1910, the U.S. high school graduation rate was 9%. In 1940, it jumped to 52%. Today it is over 83%.
- It is quite likely we are living in the most peaceful time in human history. Large scale wars have been on the decline over the last 100 years. A European living today is 10-50x less likely to die of homicide than one who lived during the middle ages. And the homicide rate in the United States has dropped by half in the last 40 years.
- Over the course of the 20th century, Americans were 96% less likely to be killed in an automobile accident.
- Before 1870, electricity in a home was a completely foreign concept. Today, over 87% of the world’s population has access to electricity.
- In 1990, nearly 25% of the world’s population did not have access to an “improved” water source (piped household water or a public tap/well). Today that number is down to 9%.
- Roughly half of the adults in the world own a smartphone. An astounding innovation so many of us take for granted. A device with the computing power of a room sized computer from the 1970s that also replaces a wall phone, camera, radio, flashlight, compass, map, calendar, watch, alarm clock, calculator, and every encyclopedia in the world.
While our world is certainly far from perfect and there is still much work to be done, I hope this was an interesting reminder that we as human beings have made and continue to make incredible progress every year. Thank you for reading- and in the words of my always cheerful neighbor, “Make it a great year!”.
Brad Lupkes, CFP®