# What is Our World In Data?
OWID is an online publication that shows how living conditions around the world are changing. It communicates this empirical knowledge through interactive data visualizations (charts and maps) and by presenting the research findings on global development that explain what drives the changes that we see and what the consequences of these changes are.
The publication is developed at the University of Oxford and covers a wide range of topics across many academic disciplines: Trends in health, food provision, the growth and distribution of incomes, violence, rights, wars, culture, energy use, education, and environmental changes are empirically analysed and visualized in this web publication. For each topic the quality of the data is discussed and, by pointing the visitor to the sources, this website is also a database of databases. Covering all of these aspects in one resource makes it possible to understand how the observed long-run trends are interlinked and the research on global development is presented to the audience of interested readers, journalists, academics, and policy people. The articles cross-reference each other to make it possible for the reader to learn about the drivers of the observed long-run trends. For each topic the quality of the data will be discussed and, by pointing the visitor to the sources, this website works as a database of databases – a meta-database.
Our World In Data is made available as a public good: The entire publication is freely available, the data published on the website is available for download, the visualizations published in the web publication are made available under a permissive Creative Commons license, and all the tools to publish OWID and to create the visualizations are free to use by everyone (completely open source and available on GitHub here).
# What can I find on Our World In Data?
The idea is to tell the history of our present world – based on empirical data and visualized in graphs. Individual data entries deal with the different aspects of living standards. These entries are arranged into the 16 categories that you find in the data section.
We need to know in which aspects the world has seen progress and why and we also need to show where people live in destitute conditions and present clearly what the big challenges of today are. This helps us to prioritize where and on which aspects policy makers and all of us focus our efforts.
Most of the long-run trends are positive and paint an optimistic view of our world that is unknown to many who only follow the daily news to inform themselves about the world. The research presented on OWID backs up the statement by Karl Popper.
The empirical view of our world shows how the Enlightenment continues to make our world a better place. It chronicles how human societies became less violent and increasingly more democratic. The empirical evidence shows how new ideas continue to improve living standards, allowing us to live a healthier, richer and happier life. It is the story of declining poverty and better food provision in a world we care about.
The empirical view on our world shows how misplaced doom and defeatism is and my aim is to encourage those who work to make our world a better place still. At the same time my hope is also to help to change the mind of those of you who do not think that we are creating a better world. By looking at the empirical data I want to explain why I am optimistic about how we are changing our world and why I think it is worthwhile to engage in the global long-term project of Enlightenment. Although most trends are clearly going in the right direction I also show where this is not the case. In a world of hysteria we cannot focus on what is important, but a fact based view on our world should help us to focus on the topics that are most important.
We need to present the research that lets us understand why living conditions change. What is driving progress to improve global health and education and how can we further reduce extreme poverty, violence, hunger? We need to bridge the gap between researchers and the public and clearly show that we have it in our hands to work towards a world where living conditions are improving for all of us. We can be more effective when the public – including policy makers, journalists, and academics – knows where and how we need to act to improve living conditions for every person around the world.
From the feedback I know that readers of Our World In Data include academics, policy makers that need to know what works in global development, journalists that want to have a longer view on current events, professors and teachers who use the material for their students, and many laypeople interested in global development. Many members of the general public are interested in how the world is changing but find it hard to get access to the relevant research.
# The data entries
On OWID overview articles – called data entries – give the reader an overview of how a particular social, economic or ecological aspect of the world has changed over the long run. The content structure of each entry is shown in the following figure:
In the 1st section of every data entry – the section titled ‘Empirical View’ – we present the most important facts of the long-term development of the topic of that data entry. The presentation of these trends makes use of interactive data visualizations and presents the available empirical evidence about what we know about the historical development (up to now) about each of the many different aspects of global development. The data visualizations are a distinctive feature of OurWorldInData and are often used in journalistic and academic articles, on social media and in school and university teaching.
Here is an example for a data visualization in section 1: The world map shows how life expectancy has changed over time. Use the slider below the map to see the change over time. (If you click on Chart in the top right corner you can explore the change for each country in the world.)
Section 2 is titled ‘Determinants & Consequences‘. To illustrate and communicate the research findings in this section we also use data visualizations – while the summarized (and referenced) research will show the current evidence on what is behind the observed changes and what they mean for our living conditions. To give a concrete example, while the peer-reviewed research on the causal links between mother’s education and higher child survival is summarized, this same section is illustrated with the correlation of these two measures across countries.
Section 3 is a very important section: Too often empirical studies are not critical enough about the data that is used in their empirical research (and this is equally an issue for data visualizations which are shared online for example on social media sites). Section 3 – ‘Measurement, Data Quality & Definitions’ – defines the used measures and explains the limitations of the empirical data by reviewing the literature that scrutinizes data sets.
Section 4 is pointing the visitor to the relevant original data sources and allows policy makers and interested researchers to study the empirical evidence themselves. This section of each entry links to the original sources of the data: This can either be a 1) specialized institute (like the Peace Research Institute Oslo PRIO) or a 2) research article (like Bourguignon & Morrison – ’Inequality Among World Citizens: 1820-1992’ in the American Economic Review ) or a 3) statistical agency that provides relevant data. This section makes the web publication a database of databases – a meta-database.
The presentation of text and data makes use of the capabilities of online publishing. Almost all publications on the web – including those in the best journals – are currently just emulating the possibilities (and restrictions) of publishing on paper. They are published online, yet they as static combinations of text and visuals which were essentially already at the disposal of Johannes Gutenberg when he invented the printing press in the 1440s. OurWorldInData uses the possibilities of the web – links that show the interconnectedness of development, options are available to search and explore the publication, and the empirical evidence is presented in interactive visualizations for which OurWorldInData is famous. OurWorldInData moves publishing from a static medium to a dynamic medium with computational responsiveness.
# The ‘Grapher’
The OurWorldInData–Grapher is at the heart of this publication. It is the tool that allows us to store all data in an online database and then to visualise this data in line charts, maps, bar charts, scatter plots, area charts etc.
As everything else on OWID the Grapher is also completely open source.
You find more – many examples, a video that shows the backend, and everything else – on the OurWorldInData page about the Grapher.
# The Team
The intention for this publication was always to be a collaborative work and from 2015 onwards several researchers and web developers contributed to the content and expanded the technical framework of the publication:
Current contributors to Our World In Data
Since February 2016: Jaiden Mispy, a web developer with experience in the software industry, who is interested in using technology to improve academic work. In the past, Jaiden has helped build tools which assist researchers from various fields, particularly in genetics and quantum physics. Jaiden is developing the very heart of this web publication – our data storage and visualization tool owid-grapher. This tool is open source and free to use by everyone. Contact: [email protected]
Since February 2016: Dr. Esteban Ortiz Ospina who is an economist and a Research Associate at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford. He was Departmental Lecturer in Economics at the University of Oxford from September 2013 to January 2016. His main research interests are in applied microeconomics. He completed his DPhil in Economics at the University of Oxford focusing on theoretical models of selection under uncertainty, applying them to issues of access to higher education. His current research studies issues such as the implications of discrimination in university admissions. You find more about Esteban on his personal page at the Blavatnik School of Government. Contact: [email protected]
Our World In Data was started and is run by Dr. Max Roser. I started working on this in 2011 and built this online publication by myself over the course of several years. Today I am an economist working at the University of Oxford. My background is in economics, geoscience and philosophy and my research is focusing on long-term growth and the distribution of living standards. At Oxford I am working at the Oxford Martin School. My personal website is MaxRoser.com. Contact: [email protected]
Former contributors to Our World In Data
May 2015 to September 2015: Lindsay Lee, who has a background in Applied Statistics and continued to do a Master in Public Policy has been working to expand content – particularly on health and demographics – and make the content more consistent across the site. Her personal site is LindsayEvansLee.com. Lindsay continued her studies at the University of Oxford after her work at OWID.
June 2015 to October 2015: Mohamed Nagdy completed his MPhil in Economics in 2015 at the University of Oxford. He is an economist with particularly strong empirical skills and helped to expand the content on the growth and distribution of incomes, economic development, violence, and education. Mohamed worked as an economist in London after his work at OWID.
July 2015 to August 2015: Julia Murphy, who has a background in economics and engineering (Dartmouth College) was contributing to this project in the summer of 2015 and focused on expanding the section ‘Media & Communication’. Julia continued her studies after her internship at OWID.
OWID is supported by Sir Tony Atkinson and by Sir David Hendry. Tony Atkinson developed the idea for this publication together with Max and is an adviser to the project. Sir David Hendry is overseeing the project and was the Principal Investigator in the initial phase of the project. As a empirical economist and econometrician his contribution and advice is invaluable.
# Why are we working on Our World In Data?
# 1) Because the daily news are not enough to know about the world
To understand how the world is changing it is not enough to follow the daily news. The news that make the headlines focus on events and fail to communicate the slow trends that slowly, and persistently reshape our world.
The important consequence of the media’s focus on events rather than slow trends is that global development does not get reported. Harm is done in an instant and disasters are happening at once: an earthquake, a plane crash, or the attack of a group of terrorists. In contrast, many of the best news for life on earth are shaped by trends that slowly and over the course of decades or centuries change our world: Global child mortality fell from 18.2% in 1960 to 4.3% in 2015; while 4.3% is still too high, this is a substantial achievement. But understandably on no day in the last 5 decades was there ever the headline ‘Global Child Mortality Fell by 0.00719% Since Yesterday’. This is not necessarily a critique of the news media, but it does mean that we have to do more to see that global development is reality. We have to communicate how global living conditions are gradually changing and OurWorldInData aims to be a complementary source that informs us all about the world.
The motivation for publishing OurWorldInData could not be explained better than in the words of Albert Schweitzer who realized several decades ago:
# 2) To make it possible to know about global development
The fact that the media fails to communicate a large part of global development would be less an issue if our own perception would provide us with an accurate representation of how the world is changing.
Unfortunately this is not the case. And even worse, the lack of information on global development is compounded by, rather than corrected by, our perception: We are bad intuitive statisticians. This – in a nutshell – is the research result of psychologists and behavioral economists, summarized in Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow.
Two of the important biases that make us such bad intuitive statisticians are:
– The availability heuristic biases our perception towards the events that we see repeatedly and for which we can recall examples easily. This is aggravating the predicament of a media that mostly focuses on gloomy event news.
– The negativity bias describes the fact that our perception responds more strongly to unpleasant news. From an evolutionary perspective it is clear that it is most important for an organism to survive that it notices danger and threats and therefore to focus on these aspects of our world. But what makes us well equipped for our immediate daily surrounding makes us ill-equipped to understand the world around us at large. The consequence of which is that we pay excessive attention to threats and losses and fail to see opportunities and gains.
To balance these biases we have to develop greater sensitivity in measuring opportunities and gains and we have to measure slow changes over time accurately. To develop this clear-eyed view of our world is what scientists around the world are doing. To communicate these gains, opportunities, and slow trends and to make this research accessible for all of us is what OurWorldInData.org aims to do.
As the cognitive scientist Steven Pinker put it when examining why we fail to see human progress: ‘the diagnosis comes from cognitive science and the cure from data science’.
The available evidence for how well informed we are about the world suggests that in important aspects this work is vital. Studies show that the public’s knowledge of how the world is changing in important aspects is sadly rather low. The study ‘Perils of Perception’ published annually by Ipsos MORI, for example, showed how wrong the British public were about some of the most important trends: One of the findings of the study was that 58% of the British public do not believe that crime is falling, when in fact the ‘Crime Survey for England and Wales’ shows that incidents of crime in 2012 were 53% lower than in 1995.
Similarly the Gapminder Ignorance Project – focusing not on domestic but global trends – found that 66% of people in the USA believed that ‘the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty’ has increased in the past 30 years. Only 5% of the public knew that it has actually decreased (here is Our World In Data showing the evidence). As the chart below shows, the empirical knowledge about one of the most fundamental changes in our time is not much better in the population with a university degree in the UK.
The issue we are tackling with Our World In Data is that the barriers for the general public to get informed by the important quantitative social research carried out in academic institutions are frustratingly high. OurWorldInData changes this and makes research on social, economic and environmental trends accessible.
# 3) To pursue more of what works and to get engaged in a world that achieves progress
The annual question of the science portal Edge is “What do you consider the most interesting recent scientific news?” and Professor Steven Pinker answered that in his opinion it is the possibility to “quantify human progress”.
Pinker explains why he considers this to be the most important and interesting news: “Foremost, quantified progress is a feedback signal for adjusting what we have been doing. The gifts of progress we have enjoyed are the result of institutions and norms that have become entrenched in the last two centuries: reason, science, technology, education, expertise, democracy, regulated markets, and a moral commitment to human rights and human flourishing.”
The motivation of publishing Our World In Data is indeed to be more constructive about development. We have to know what works so that we pursue more of it. To me this is also about trust in our institutions and about believing in each other. It is too easy to be cynical about the world and cynicism is leading to misanthropy.
The absence of information on global development has an additional sorry consequence: The lack of feedback on our efforts as a society can make us lose trust in ourselves and at the extreme make us lose will to change the world for the better.
Here is how a reader of OurWorldInData put it in an email: “nobody is able to accomplish anything when ones mind is preoccupied with negative news, insecurity, and fear. Quite the contrary, to achieve something great we need to know that our efforts are worthwhile, yet understand that many aspects need our work so that we can further improve our world.”
It is disempowering if we wrongly think that we are going down the wrong way and contrariwise it can be empowering to know that we are doing something right.
It reinforces development also because it makes us ask questions. To see how agricultural yields have increased or how the child mortality rate is falling in all countries in the world makes you ask questions.
# 4) To communicate what we know about global development, to choose better policies
The aim for the web publication OurWorldInData.org is to bring together the best available quantitative research on the many different aspects of global development and to present the most reliable empirical data openly to the public.
We believe that communicating knowledge about global development matters for the quality of our democratic political system and ultimately for better decisions by policy makers and citizens. Democracy depends on informed citizens and the knowledge on global development and global challenges will help us to seek better policies.
Democracy crucially depends on informed consent and people view their world very different if they falsely believe that global living conditions are getting worse. Fortunately empirical evidence is increasingly becoming the basis for political discussions and decisions and this project will provide a database for discussants to refer to. It is helpful for this form of political debate because while statistics are becoming the principal language of public argument, a comprehensive platform on global development accessible to the interested citizen does not exist.
OurWorldInData is motivated by the sense that statistics are the dominant language of public argument. The interactive visualizations – licensed under a permissive BY-SA-Creative Commons license – are directly usable for journalists (who can either copy the visualizations or directly embed them in their web publications). The experience with Our World In Data shows that many of us do pay attention to evidence and that there is a strong demand for the research on global development presented in this publication. The reason why research and data on global development does not play a larger part in the public debate and perception is the gap between academia and the wider public. For researchers, policy makers, and the public an open approach to empirical evidence is the best way to maximize the benefits of research.
# 5) To know where to focus our efforts
Our World In Data always shows both, the change so far and the challenge ahead. In the Visual History of World Poverty we see the reduction of extreme poverty from 44% in 1981 to less than 10% in 2015. This reduction is an extraordinary achievement. But at the same this data visualisation and the accompanying entry on OurWorldInData also show that almost 10% of the world population live in extreme poverty – clearly an outrageously high number of individuals that live in abysmal living conditions in our present world.
The medical doctor and director of the Global Burden of Disease study Chris Murray believes that “You could solve humanity’s most pressing problems once you recognize them […] that’s why I keep obsessing about marshaling the facts and putting them in a way for people who need to think about them”.1 OurWorldInData does both, it shows the successes so far and the pressing challenges ahead so that we know where we should focus our efforts.
We are convinced that portraying the difficult yet successful efforts of humanity will be a helpful way to look at history and our present condition. In this spirit our work is directed against cynicism and in favor of engagement in a developing world.
# 6) To communicate a broad understanding of development – not just economic growth
The perception and discussion of development is focused on a single, narrow aspect of development: Economic growth.
The growth of incomes is important, yet it is a means to an end and certainly it is no guarantee that we achieve the ends of development that we care about (health, education, human freedom, sustainable relationship with nature and more). Our World In Data promotes a broad understanding of what development means. The aim is to broaden the debate and make measures of health and other aspects of development as ubiquitous and easy to access as data on economic output is today.
The Millennium Development Goals with a focus on health and even more the Sustainable Development Goals with the understanding that development is even broader were steps in the right direction. Our World In Data gives this perspective a permanent home.
As recommended by Stiglitz, Sen, and Fitoussi (2009), GDP per capita remains an important part of the empirical perspective on development, but the measure will not be used to capture aspects that it is not able to capture. For the wider range of aspects of development OurWorldInData will also follow the recommendation of the Stiglitz, Sen, and Fitoussi report and present a range of indicators (dashboard approach). The website is therefore structured into 16 categories and aims to communicate the empirical research on all of these aspects:
(1) Population Growth & Vital Statistics
(3) Food & Agriculture
(4) Resources & Energy
(5) Environmental Change
(6) Technology & Infrastructure
(7) Growth & Distribution of Prosperity
(8) Economic Development, Work & Standard of Living
(9) The Public Sector & Economic System
(10) Global Interconnections
(11) War & Peace
(12) Political Regime
(13) Violence & Rights
(14) Education & Knowledge
(15) Media & Communication
(16) Culture, Values & Society
# 7) To counter fatalism and make us appreciate the progress the world has achieved
Nostalgia for a better past is widespread and many see the world in decline. The chart shows, few of us are optimistic.2
Our World In Data seeks to put this widespread pessimism in context. In the best case people will question their pessimism about the world and it is an initiative that fosters a kind of public optimism. For this effort to succeed we need to present the picture of true progress that we see in the data. Steven Pinker again: “Quantified human progress emboldens us to seek more of it. A common belief among activists is that any optimistic datum must be suppressed lest it lull people into complacency. Instead, one must keep up the heat by wailing about ongoing crises and scolding people for being insufficiently terrified. Unfortunately, this can lead to a complementary danger: fatalism.”
Because our hopes and efforts for building a better future are inextricably linked to our perception of the past it is important to understand and communicate the global development up to now. Studying our world in data and understanding how we overcame challenges that seemed insurmountable at the time should also give us confidence and guidance to tackle the problems we are currently facing. It is easy to be cynical about the world and to maintain that nothing is ever getting better. But fortunately the empirical evidence often contradicts this view. We believe it is partly due to a lack of relevant and understandable information that a negative view on how the world is changing is so very common.
This is the perspective on the world that OurWorldInData presents and the ambition is that seeing the world through this online publication makes more of us appreciate the progress the world has achieved and seek more of it in the future.
# Impact of OurWorldInData
I started preparing this publication in 2011 and in June last year and made the website available online in June 2014. Since then more than 2,00,000 people have visited OurWorldInData.org. Over the last year more than 200 articles portrayed the project or used material on global development from OurWorldInData.
English speaking media outlets using OurWorldInData include The New York Times, The Washington Post, Forbes, Slate, Vox, Foreign Policy, Thomson Reuters, The Guardian, Quartz, Bloomberg, World Economic Forum, Business Insider, The Financial Times, and the New Yorker.
Non-English speaking media outlets using OurWorldInData include La Presse (Canada & France), Neue Zürcher Zeitung (Switzerland), Svenska Dagbladet (Sweden), Veja (Brazil), Les Echos (France), Bild am Sonntag (Germany), Polimaty (Poland), Aftenposten (Norway), Rue 89 (France), Blic (Serbia), Chabad (Israel), Scientias (Dutch), Jutarnji (Croatia), Rusplt (Russian), Kushima (Japan), Berlingske (Denmark), Vice (Italy), Contrepoints (France), RPP (Peru), Süddeutsche Zeitung (Germany), Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Germany), and Der Spiegel (Germany).
In videos and television material from Our World In Data has been used by the BBC in an hour-long documentary on global poverty with Hans Rosling, by German speaking stations (such as ORF), and in the work of the author John Green.
On the radio and in podcasts Our World In Data and its content was discussed in detail by public radio stations in Germany (SWR, BR, Deutschland Radio), Data Stories, Forschergeist, and WNYC (Takeaway).
From the feedback we know that the content of OurWorldInData is used widely in teaching and in lectures.
Visualising data is a form of knowledge compression and the experience has shown that investing in Our World In Data is therefore an effective way to communicate research through the media and influence policy and public understanding of our world.
# History of OurWorldInData
In 2011 I started working on this publication by myself. The first idea was to write a book that presents a long-run perspective on global development, but since I found it was difficult to find the empirical literature and empirical data on global development I changed these plans and decided to provide this basic information for everyone online myself. In the following years my supervisor Sir Tony Atkinson and I developed the concept for such a publication, I collected a lot of data to structure and plan this publication. Over the following years this was my project that I worked on on weekends and the evenings. In 2014 I was done with a first basic version of the website and made OurWorldInData available online.
Over the course of 2015 the project was hosted at the Institute for New Economic Thinking and the Department of Economics at the University of Oxford while the financial support was provided by a small research grant from the London-based Nuffield Foundation.
Now, from 2016 onwards this work will be carried out at the University of Oxford’s Oxford Martin School. The Martin School is an interdisciplinary research institution within the University of Oxford and close links between the publication of OurWorldInData and the Martin School already exist. However, funding is only secured for the first 6 months of 2016 and during this period the project has to be successful to secure funding for a longer time horizon, otherwise it will not continue.
The Oxford Martin School was chosen as the institution to host this work as it is a truly interdisciplinary research institution with a focus on the challenges of global development. It is therefore the ideal place to carry out this research.
A small selection of the names of the other programs at the Martin School makes clear that there is a close-knit research environment around OurWorldInData from which this publication can benefit: Global Health, Armed Conflict, Migration, Climate Change, Food, Vaccines, and the Future of Humanity Programme are some of the related programmes.
Collaborations with several of these and other research programs of the Martin School are already established and were already useful in the development of OurWorldInData.org.
The best aspect of the work on Our World In Data was that we are now able to work on this project as a team. The web developer Jaiden Mispy and the research economist Dr Esteban Ortiz Ospina have both made a tremendous contribution to this free online publication. Their work is only possible thanks to the very generous donations that we receive from readers! (You can support our work here.)
# Work in Progress
Right now this website is still very much work in progress. We are always looking for data. So if you know of or come across some data that might be relevant for this project please let me know. There is a full List of all current and future data-entries.
# How we choose which data to present
We have 7 guidelines to decide which sources to accept and which data to present.
1) As far back into the past as possible – but up to today
The goal is to give a perspective on the long-term development and therefore we always aimed for finding data series that reach back as far as possible. Unfortunately the availability of data is often itself an achievement of modern development and data is not available for the more distant past. A solution for this problem is data that has later been reconstructed and we aim to give a more complete picture by taking this data into account.
At the same time the idea is also to present a ‘history of the present’ and we therefore also want to ensure that the data presented reaches until today.
2) As global as possible
A second objective is to give an account of each topic that includes as many societies, countries, and world regions as possible.
3) Present data in its entirety
Shorter sample periods may mask important trends and a recent reversal of a long-term trend could be falsely interpreted as the direction of the long-term trend. The merit of taking a historical perspective that studies long-term trends is that it shows the direction in which some aspect of our world is developing. Therefore we also always ensure to present the whole dataset and we do not want to cut off the original data.
4) Comparable through time and across societies
A third objective is to ensure that the data we present is comparable across time and across societies. In particular absolute numbers are mostly not meaningful when compared between societies with very different population sizes. It is not surprising that there are many more higher educated people today than a century ago, but this obviously does not mean that the educational background of today’s population is better than in the past – it could simply mean that there are more people overall. To make measures comparable we aim to include relative measures that account for the differences in population size.
5) There is no other data – or we would include this data
An important promise is that we are not withholding any data that would give a different impression of the long-term development of some aspect. If two credible sources would publish statistics that contradict each other then we would say so.
6) Reference the original source
To make the data base useful for readers and credit the important work of those who construct the data presented here we aim to always reference the original source of the data.
We could very well fail to notice that we violated our own guidelines: If you find that we are not following my own guidelines, or you have any other complaints, please contact us through the form above.
# Media Coverage
The media coverage of OurWorldInData.org is now moved to a dedicated page that lists all coverage that we are aware of.
# Disclaimer of warranties and limitation of liability.
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Max Roser owns the copyright of the text and the visualizations unless otherwise indicated.
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