What this chart shows:
To start off my series of 100 charts that explain how living standards have improved over the long run I chose my data visualisation of the dramatic improvement of global health.
There is a lot of information in this unusual chart. On the x-axis you find the cumulative share of the world population. And all the countries of the world are ordered along the x-axis ascending by the life expectancy of the population. On the y-axis you see the life expectancy of each country.
For 1800 (red line) you see that the countries on the left – India and also South Korea – have a life expectancy around 25. On the very right you see that in 1800 no country had a life expectancy above 40 (Belgium had the highest life expectancy with just 40 years).
In 1950 the life expectancy of all countries was higher than in 1800 and the richer countries in Europe and North America had life expectancies over 60 years – over the course of modernisation and industrialisation the health of the population improved dramatically. But half of the world’s population – look at India and China – made only little progress. Therefore the world in 1950 was highly unequal in living standards – clearly devided between developed countries and developing countries.
This division is ending: Look at the change between 1950 and 2012! Now it is the former developing countries – the countries that were worst off in 1950 – that achieved the fastest progress. While some countries (mostly in Africa) are lacking behind. But many of the former developing countries have caught up and we achieved a dramatic reduction of global health inequality.
The world developed from equally poor health in 1800 to great inequality in 1950 and back to more equality today – but equality on a much higher level.
Data sources I used for this chart:
The data on life expectancy is taken from Version 7 of the data set published by Gapminder. The documentation is online here.
The data on the population of each country is taken from Gapminder. The data and the documentation can be found here.
The included world population in 1800 is 1,036 billion. In 1950 it is 2,72 billion. For 2012 it is the life expectancy of that year and the population measures refer to 2010 (7 billion people).
Link to OurWorldInData.org
This chart is also published on my project OurWorldInData.org in the data entry on life expectancy – where you find much more information on the how health is improving around the world.