The Visual History of
World Poverty

www.OurWorldInData.org

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For much of human history, all of the world was very poor.

This is GDP per capita in the year 1, represented in dollars that have the same purchasing power as US dollars in 1990.

For the distant past we only have reconstructed data, but we know that the standard of living was very low in comparison to modern times.

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For the next 1000 years this did not change - all countries remained poor.

Around 1500 AD, living standards start to improve in Renaissance Italy.

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Over the next couple of centuries the center of prosperity moved to the northwest of Europe.

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The Enlightenment led to industrialization and incomes began to quickly increase.

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If we plot this over time we see how dramatic the change was.

Compared to the rapid increase in global GDP after 1800, all change before is barely visible.

This chart shows global GDP - to study which countries were growing we have to go back to the world maps.

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In the early 20th century the world looked like this.

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Then everything happened very quickly.

By 1960, prosperity had started to increase in many places around the world.

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Today the world is vastly richer than ever before - and countries in all parts of the world started to grow.

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Why is prosperity important? Because living standards rise with income – and the self-reported happiness of people is closely correlated with the level of prosperity.

This scatter plot is taken from Deaton (2008) – Income, Health, and Well-Being around the World: Evidence from the Gallup World Poll. In Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Before we go to inequality, let's look at
the worst off and see how poverty has changed

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For much of history the huge majority lived in extreme poverty. This began to change with modern economic growth.

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For the last few decades we have better data on global poverty (from the World Bank).

Global extreme poverty declined from 44% to less than 10% - falling faster than ever.

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Let's go back to the question of how prosperity is distributed.

In 1988 the world looked like this – clearly divided between rich and poor.

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In 1993, we see this distribution beginning to change.

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In the 1990s global income inequality stops increasing, and starts to decrease.

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We see the strong income growth in Asia transforming the global income distribution.

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More people are moving to the right of the poverty line, out of extreme poverty.

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Here is the world income distribution with the latest data.

The world has changed dramatically since 1988 and is becoming more equal.

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Where is this economic change leading now?

This map shows recent levels of prosperity - but to see the direction of change we have to look at the growth rates.

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Here we can see how GDP per capita grew over the last decade.

Let's compare this map with the previous one...

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Up the top is the uneven distribution of wealth across countries.

Compare this to the growth rates below. Note how the poor countries are growing faster.

We are becoming a much more equal world!

We should not be complacent, but the
world is heading in the right direction:

  • Incomes are growing in all parts of the world.
  • Global poverty is declining rapidly.
  • And the poorest countries are growing the fastest!

www.OurWorldInData.org

Twitter @MaxCRoser · Facebook @OurWorldInData




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