Data Insights

Bite-sized insights on how the world is changing, written by our team.

April 22, 2024Hannah Ritchie

Investments in waste management are key to ending plastic pollution

Global map showing mismanaged plastic waste per person. This tends to be higher in low and middle-income countries.

Today, April 22, is Earth Day. This year’s theme is ending plastic pollution.

The world produces vast amounts of plastic: more than 450 million tonnes yearly. But when it comes to plastics leaking into our rivers and oceans, it’s the management of plastics — not their production or use — that matters most.

When plastic is not correctly recycled, incinerated, or stored in sealed landfills, it can pollute the environment. According to the OECD Global Plastics Outlook, around one-fifth of the world’s plastic waste is mismanaged in this way.

As this map shows, mismanaged plastic waste per person tends to be higher in low-to-middle-income countries. This is because their plastic use has increased much faster than their investments in waste management infrastructure. (These estimates come from research by Lourens Meijer and colleagues.)

To end plastic pollution, improvements in waste management — alongside more responsible use of plastics — will be critical. Domestic policies will be crucial, but richer countries can also contribute through foreign investments in waste management infrastructure.

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April 19, 2024Max Roser

Maternal deaths have halved in the last 35 years

Maternal deaths have halved in the last 35 years

A woman dying when she is giving birth to her child is one of the greatest tragedies imaginable.

Every year, 300,000 women die from pregnancy-related causes.

Fortunately, the world has made continuous progress, and such tragic deaths have become much rarer, as the chart shows. The WHO has published data since 1985. Since then, the number of maternal deaths has halved.

Explore the data country by country

April 18, 2024Bastian Herre

China has been expanding its nuclear weapons arsenal

Line chart showing that China has been expanding the number of its nuclear warheads in the last twenty years, thereby overtaking France and the United Kingdom, which have slightly reduced theirs.

China has significantly increased its number of nuclear warheads in the last 20 years.

In 2003, the country had 235 warheads. A steady increase brought this number to 280 in 2018, and a more recent acceleration to 410 as of 2023.

China now has a larger nuclear arsenal than France and the United Kingdom, as the chart shows.

It is not the only country expanding its arsenal: India and Pakistan have also increased the number of their warheads; and the global distribution of warheads remains dominated by Russia and the United States, which each have several thousand warheads.

But China has been the country most rapidly expanding its number of nuclear weapons in recent years.

This increases the risk of accidents and the threat nuclear weapons pose to humanity.

Read more about nuclear arsenals

April 17, 2024Esteban Ortiz-Ospina

National poverty lines differ widely between countries

Scatter plot showing national poverty line (y axis) vs. GDP per capita (x axis)

Global economic inequality is very large. We see this in the differences between average incomes across countries. In this chart, average income is plotted along the horizontal axis and measured by GDP per capita. While the average income is $1,750 in Ethiopia, in Switzerland it’s around $69,000 — this is after adjusting for differences in cost of living.

Because standards of living are so different, richer countries set their own national poverty lines much higher, to measure poverty in a way that is informative and relevant to their citizens' incomes.

The scatter plot captures this insight. As we can see, richer countries (higher GDP per capita along the horizontal axis) tend to set much higher national poverty lines (higher position along the vertical axis).

In Switzerland, a person is considered in poverty if they live on less than the equivalent of roughly $36 per day; in Ethiopia, the national poverty line is around $2 per day.

→ Read more in our page on global poverty. If you are looking for more details on this Data Insight specifically, you can find it in the study on which it is based: Joliffe et al. (2022).

April 16, 2024Saloni Dattani

Data on many mental illnesses is only available for a small number of countries

This chart shows, for each mental illness, the number of countries that had data in any year since 1980 on the prevalence of that mental illness in the general population. 
This is from the IHME’s Global Burden of Disease study, a large global dataset that presents global estimates for a very wide range of health conditions.
As you can see, data on conditions such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, cannabis use disorder, and major depressive disorder come from a larger number of countries.
But data on others — such as bipolar disorder, autism spectrum disorders, and anorexia nervosa — came from far fewer countries.

Not all countries have data on how common mental illnesses are in the population. In fact, for many mental illnesses, only very few countries have this data.

This means global estimates of mental illnesses have wide uncertainties, and many people don’t get the help they need.

This chart shows, for each mental illness, the number of countries that had data in any year since 1980 on the prevalence of that mental illness in the general population.

This is from the IHME’s Global Burden of Disease study, a large global dataset presenting global estimates for various health conditions.

As you can see, data on conditions such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, cannabis use disorder, and major depressive disorder come from a significant number of countries.

But data on others — such as bipolar disorder, autism spectrum disorders, and anorexia nervosa — came from far fewer countries.

With this large knowledge gap, the world is limited in making progress against many mental illnesses.

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April 15, 2024Edouard Mathieu

Moore’s law has accurately predicted the progress in transistor counts over the last 50 years

A chart showing the exponential growth of transistor counts from 1971 to 2021

Moore's law was first described in 1965 by Gordon E. Moore, the co-founder of Intel. He observed that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit doubled every two years.

This trend has continued over the last half century, and Moore’s predictions have remained surprisingly close to reality.

The chart shows data collected by computational scientist Karl Rupp on the number of transistors per microprocessor over the last 50 years. The data is plotted on a logarithmic scale on the vertical axis. The line follows a straight path, indicating stable exponential growth.

The average transistor count per microprocessor in 1971 was 2,308. In 2021, it was 58.2 billion. That's an average doubling time of 2.03 years — extremely close to Moore’s law.

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April 12, 2024Veronika Samborska

Language-based AI systems have grown rapidly in recent years

The rapid growth of language-based AI systems

In recent years, there has been a notable shift towards artificial intelligence (AI) systems focused on language. They have outpaced advancements in other sectors like image recognition, gaming, and biology.

This is shown in the chart, which shows the number of AI systems considered notable by Epoch researchers.

The shift is primarily due to technical advancements in AI algorithms, particularly the introduction of “transformers” around 2017. As shown in the chart, the rapid development of language-based AI systems began around this time.

Transformers have radically changed natural language processing by evaluating chunks of text — “tokens” — instead of focusing on one word at a time. For example, by considering the whole sentence "The bank can ensure your money is safe", transformers can quickly discern that "bank" refers to a financial institution, not the side of a river.

This capability has significantly enhanced AI's ability in complex language tasks, improving machine translation and text generation, and making interactions more intuitive and effective.

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April 11, 2024Hannah Ritchie

Oil spills from tankers have fallen by more than 90% since the 1970s

Bar chart showing a decline in oil spills since the 1970s.

In the 1970s, oil spills from tankers — container ships transporting oil — were common. Between 70 and 100 spills occurred per year. That’s one or two spills every week.

This number has fallen by more than 90% since then. In the last decade, no year has had more than eight oil spills, as shown in the chart.

The quantity of oil spilled from tankers has also fallen dramatically. Over the last decade, the average is less than 10,000 tonnes per year, compared to over 300,000 tonnes in the 1970s.

Explore the data

April 10, 2024Max Roser

Almost one billion children have died globally since 1950

A chart showing that 970 million children died globally since 1950

The deaths of children are daily tragedies on an enormous scale. The UN estimates that between 1950 and 2021, 970 million children died. That’s almost a billion children who died in only 60 years.

The chart shows that the world has made progress. 22% of the children born in 1950 died before they were five years old. Since then, the global child mortality rate has declined to 3.7%.

In absolute terms, the number of child deaths has also declined: in 1950, 20 million children died; by the year 2000, this number had halved; and since then, it has halved again.

But the deaths of millions of young children every year remain one of the worst problems in the world and deserve much more attention.

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April 09, 2024Saloni Dattani and Fiona Spooner

What’s the leading cause of death in each country?

The leading cause of death in each country, shown on a map.

What's the leading cause of death in each country?

In most countries, it's cardiovascular disease or cancer, as shown on the map.

However, in Africa, infectious diseases are much more common. In several West African countries, the leading cause of death is diarrheal disease, malaria, or neonatal causes. In southern Africa, it's HIV/AIDS.

What’s tragic is how many still die from these causes despite being preventable with public health efforts and treatment. With greater access to clean water and sanitation, malaria bed nets, vaccines, neonatal healthcare, and antiretroviral therapy, many of these deaths could be prevented.

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April 08, 2024Edouard Mathieu

Japan has the highest ratio of elderly people relative to working-age people globally

Japan has the highest ratio of elderly people relative to working-age people globally

Demographers define the “old-age dependency ratio” as the number of people older than 64, relative to the number of working-age people.

It’s in Japan that this ratio is the highest in the world. As the chart shows, it surpassed 50% in 2021. This means there are only two working-age people for every elderly person in Japan.

Italy and Finland come next, with 37% — closer to three working-age people for every elderly person. The global figure is 15% — a ratio of 1 to 6.

The world is aging overall, and some countries are aging much more rapidly than others.

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April 05, 2024Veronika Samborska

The majority of people in the world now live in cities

The majority of people in the world now live in cities

One of the big demographic trends in recent decades has been the shift from rural places to cities.

Until 2020, most people in the world lived in smaller urban settings like towns and suburbs, with populations between 5,000 and 50,000. Since then, cities with more than 50,000 people have become the most popular living areas worldwide, as shown in the chart.

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April 04, 2024Hannah Ritchie

France’s nuclear fleet gives it one of the world’s lowest-carbon electricity grids

Line chart of the share of electricity coming from nuclear.

France generates two-thirds of its electricity from nuclear power. As the chart shows, that’s far more than the global average, just under 10%. Even though its share in France has declined slightly in recent years, it’s still its dominant power source.

Nuclear power is a low-carbon electricity source, allowing France to have a very clean electricity mix for decades.

Per unit of electricity, France emits far less carbon dioxide (CO2) than its neighbors and has some of the lowest-carbon power in the world. The global average is 438 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated. In France, this figure is 85 grams.

Explore the data

April 03, 2024Max Roser

From 5% to 71% in 25 years: Kenya has made substantial progress in providing access to electricity

Chart showing that Kenya made substantial progress in providing access to electricity, From 5% to 71% in 25 years

Those with access to electricity take many of its benefits for granted: food refrigeration reduces waste, the radio can keep us company during the day, and light at night makes it possible to get together after sunset.

25 years ago, according to data published by the World Bank, only 5% of people in Kenya had access to basic electricity and its benefits.

Since then, the country has made substantial progress, as the chart shows: by 2020, 71% of Kenyans had access to a basic electricity supply.

Explore the data country by country →

April 02, 2024Saloni Dattani

Cancer mortality has declined in many countries

Line chart showing the cancer death rate in a range of countries since the 1950s. Large declines are seen in these countries.

The chart shows age-standardized death rates from cancer in different countries since 1950.

Age-standardized rates tell us about the impact of cancer among people of the same age. This allows for a fair comparison across time and between countries — for example, to see how rates for fifty-year-olds today compare to fifty-year-olds in the 1950s.

In the United States, for example, the age-standardized death rate from cancer has declined by around a third since its peak in 1990.

A significant driver has been the large decline in smoking, which causes a wide range of cancers. But we’ve also achieved many more advances in cancer medicine and public health, such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy, surgery, vaccination against HPV and hepatitis, treatment for H. pylori, and advances in screening, diagnosis, and monitoring.

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March 29, 2024Edouard Mathieu

The service sector now represents about half of employment across the world

Stacked area chart showing the rise in employment in the service sector, and the decrease in employment in agriculture

As this data from the International Labour Organization shows, the share of service jobs in all global employment has increased in the last 3 decades, from 34% in 1991 to 51% in 2019.

In this slow but steady change in the world's economy, the share of employment in agriculture has seen an equivalent decrease, from 44% to 27%.

The share of employment in the industry sector has remained stable throughout this period, at 22%.

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March 28, 2024Veronika Samborska

February 2024 was the ninth consecutive month of record-high temperatures

February 2024 was the ninth consecutive month of record-high temperatures

February this year marked the ninth consecutive month of record-breaking global temperatures.

We see this from monthly temperature anomalies. Anomalies compare current temperatures to historical averages, showing us shifts over time.

In the chart, each line represents the temperature anomaly in a given year. As you can see, the line for 2023 was markedly above every other year on the chart from June onward. And the first two months of 2024, visible in the top left corner, have also set new records.

In February, the global surface air temperature was 0.81°C above the 1991–2020 average for the same month.

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March 27, 2024Pablo Rosado

Nuclear weapons tests are much less common than in the past

Bar chart showing the number of nuclear weapons tests conducted each year by the countries that own nuclear weapons.

The first time a nuclear bomb was ever detonated was in the Trinity test, conducted by the United States in July 1945. Less than a month later, nuclear bombs were used against the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Nuclear weapons have not been used in combat again. But more than 2,000 nuclear tests have been conducted by eight countries.

Between 1958 and 1961, the United States and the Soviet Union temporarily suspended nuclear tests. But, as we can see on the chart, their number peaked immediately afterward. In 1962, a total of 178 nuclear bombs were detonated — roughly one test every two days.

Thankfully, the number of nuclear tests has decreased rapidly since the mid-1980s. In the last two decades, only 6 tests have been conducted, all by North Korea. The last test took place in 2017.

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March 25, 2024Hannah Ritchie

Richer countries often use much of their crops for animal feed and biofuels

Scatterplot showing the relationship between GDP per person, and the share of cereals allocated to human food. This share is higher in countries at lower incomes.

Richer countries tend to use less of their crops for human food, and more for animal feed and biofuels. This is what the chart shows: in several countries, less than a quarter of cereals are used for direct consumption as human food.

In poorer countries, supplies are tighter and they can’t afford the inefficiency. Most crop production goes directly to human consumption.

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March 22, 2024Bastian Herre

Colonialism meant that for centuries, many territories and people were ruled from elsewhere

Stacked area chart of the number of European overseas colonies by region. The first wave last from the 15th century to the early 19th century and primarily affects the Americas. The second wave starts in the late 19th century, is concentrated in Africa and Asia, and ends in the mid-20th century.

Two hundred years ago, large parts of the world were ruled by a few European colonial powers, as the chart shows.

Since then, people in many countries have fought against colonial rule.

A first wave of countries gained independence in the 19th century, particularly in the Americas.

However, most countries did not gain independence until the middle of the 20th century.

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