This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at:

Monday, December 26, 2016

The World Really is a Better Place Than it Used to Be

Max Roser at Oxford's Martin School has once again done a magnificent job of pulling together historical demographic data to remind us that there have been tremendous improvements in human existence over the past two hundred years. He says that he did this in response to surveys that have shown that only a tiny fraction of respondents in rich countries think that things are getting better rather than worse. Why don't people know this, he asks? I might answer that not enough people have read my book, and actually that would be a good answer because Roser's data are just providing graphic illustrations of the changes over time that I discuss in detail in my book. Take a look at his charts:

If we think in percentage terms, i.e., a world of 100 people, then we can see that in 1820, 94 of us would have been living in extreme poverty, compared to 10 of today. That is a decline even in absolute terms--from about 940 million in 1820 to 740 million today. Literacy and basic education have improved all over the world, vaccinations are up and child mortality is down. And, in step with the recent blog post by Ben Wilson at LSE about demography and democracy which I noted a few days ago, the percent of the world's population living in a democracy has grown from 1 to 56.

The strength of these numbers is to remind us to be optimistic about the prospect for the continued improvement of human society. The danger, of course, is complacency that might come from thinking that everything is going to automatically be OK. There is nothing automatic about any of this, as Roser notes. It requires massive collaboration. 
There are big problems that remain. None of the above should give us reason to become complacent. On the contrary, it shows us that a lot of work still needs to be done – accomplishing the fastest reduction of poverty is a tremendous achievement, but the fact that 1 out of 10 lives in extreme poverty today is unacceptable. We also must not accept the restrictions of our liberty that remain and that are put in place. And it is also clear that humanity’s impact on the environment is at a level that is not sustainable and is endangering the biosphere and climate on which we depend. We urgently need to reduce our impact.
But then if you've read my book, you already know this... 

1 comment:

  1. Demography and polygamy? Oh my.