With all the terrible news we had this year, It’s okay to think the world is going to hell in a handbasket. It seemed every time we turned around there was a plane crash, or a new war, or mass abductions. Let’s not forget the ongoing strife over income inequality and environmental inaction. Between all of that and the onset of winter, it’s understandable to want to throw in the towel and just wallow in misery until the sun gets back to work in a few months. Maybe things will be better then.
It turns out, though, that while many things are bad, life has been getting better and better as a whole. We've got insane advances in medicine popping up all the time, great strides being made to improve life for people in the most impoverished regions of the world, and people have never been better than they are now.
Not only can life get better, it is getting better. And we’ve got the numbers to prove it. Here are 20 stats to give you hope for the future.
20 Global Life Expectancy Is Now 70
Globally, a person born in 2012 has a life expectancy of 70 years. It might not seem like that long, but consider that the average in 1990 was 64. Six years is nothing to shake a stick at.
That’s just part of it. As with any average, the low numbers pull the higher results down a bit. Americans can feel secure in the knowledge that their average life expectancy is now at 79.8 – and they’re only ranked #34. If you’re lucky enough to live in a rich country, the number climbs well into the eighties.
It gets better. Those years at the tail-end of your life, the ones where you can’t do or enjoy much, are shrinking. It means we’re living more enjoyable lives, longer.
19 77% Of People Are Happy
Happiness means something different to everyone, but when a large number of people say they are happy, it can only mean good things.
An Ipsos poll from 2012 found that 77% of people said they were happy, and 22% that they were very happy. It’s important to note that this is what they are saying – there is no objective measure of happiness here. It’s the increase in the self-reported happiness that is important, with Ipsos noting the jump from 20 to 22% of people being very happy as particularly important.
Married, educated people with high household incomes are the most likely to be very happy.
18 People Are Getting Less Racist
Events like the Ferguson riots and London bomb threats aside, societies around the world have been making great strides on the path to abandoning racial prejudice. Whatever your thoughts on his presidency, the election of Barack Obama was indeed a historic event, and serves as a good example. According to Gallup, in 1958 only 38 percent of people would have voted for a black candidate. By 2012, that number had reached 96 percent.
There are plenty more examples. The Washington Post cited General Social Survey’s finding that only 28 percent of white people think it’s okay to discriminate against black families when selling a house. That’s down from “nearly two-thirds.” Congrats, white people. You’re improving.
17 Gay Couples Can Marry In More Places
By now, in most of the developed world it’s less a question of if gay couples will be allowed to marry than it is one of when. The bigotry of older generations is beginning to lose sway, with young people not only tolerating gay love and marriage, but according to The Guardian, taking pride in welcoming those with different sexual orientations as friends and members of the community.
With the recent decision reached in Finland, 20 countries have now legalized gay marriage. This doesn’t include places like Mexico, where a few states have okayed the practice, or America, where a majority of states have.
16 The World Is More Peaceful Than Ever
This one requires a bit of explanation. Obviously there are many horrible armed conflicts in the world, and many thousands of people killed every year. In terms of absolute deaths, there’s little to suggest that human society has gotten much better. But taken in proportion to our enormous population, another story emerges: we’re more peaceful than ever.
Politifact has a great rundown of this, and states that the number of battle deaths in 2013 was “about 30,000.” It means “there have been fewer battle deaths over the last decade than any other 10-year average since World War II.”
15 American Gun Crime Is Down 39/69 %
This is a bit of a shock to some, given the number of mass public shootings that have been reported on in recent years, but the numbers don’t lie. On the whole, the American Justice Department reports that as of 2011, fatal firearms crime is down 39 percent from 1993 levels, to 11,101 deaths. Nonfatal gun crime fell 69 percent, to 467,300 incidents.
That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of room for improvement. Something ought to be done to address the number of mass shootings, which the FBI reports to be up and others claim to have remained stagnant since the 1970s. Still, a bit of good news that goes underreported in the media.
14 Americans Are Eating More Fruit
Contrary to what many believe, fruit is not the healthiest thing in the world. But if Americans aren’t interested in filling their plates with veggies, then it’s good that at least they’re going for the natural sugar.
In 2013, NPD reported on an Eating Patterns in America report that found fruit had climbed to the second spot on the list of foods Americans eat, right below sandwiches. The same report also claimed that the number of overweight Americans had stabilized at around 30 percent – and had not climbed since 2003. Other products that had increased in popularity included yogurt and bottled water, the latter of which has eaten away at the soda market.
13 Everyone Is Eating More Good Fats
There are good fats and bad fats, and while we aren`t eating less of the latter category, we are eating more of the former.
Good fats come in foods like nuts, fish, and vegetable oil. They provide energy, promote healthy brain function, and help keep skin and hair healthy, among other things. Too much fat is bad, but low-fat diets, or worse, attempting to eliminate them from a diet altogether, can have detrimental effects.
The “Mediterranean diet,” which consists mostly of fish, olive oil, fruits, and vegetables, recently came back into the spotlight when researchers suggested it could “keep people genetically younger.” Want to be healthy for a long time? Eat healthy fats.
12 The Chinese Are More Environmentally Conscious Than Americans
The western world has a hard enough time dealing with the massive pollution it puts out, and the march toward development in much of the rest of the world has been a concern for a long time. It would be downright terrifying if China polluted as much per capita as America does.
Thankfully, even while idiots stateside lie through their teeth and say global warming is a myth, 33 percent of China rates it as the greatest danger in the world. It adds new weight to the recent environmental agreement between China and America, and a little bit of hope. If other countries aren’t willing to do what’s right, maybe China will be able to force the issue.
11 Amazon Deforestation Is Down 70%
The Amazon is many things. It’s a unique ecosystem full of a number of species so vast that we’ve not yet discovered all of them. It’s a massive carbon sink, responsible for the capture of a huge amount of CO2. For many years, it was also a source of worry.
According to The Economist, “an area of Brazilian rainforest the size of Belgium was felled every year” in the 1990s. Now, deforestation has dropped by 70 percent, saving our atmosphere from “an extra 3.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide.”
There’s still a large chunk of Amazon rainforest lost every year, but the rampant destruction of decades past, thankfully, is over.
10 Every Economy Has Grown
Until we solve the issue of income inequality, this might be more of academic interest than practical benefit. According to a Businessweek article from 2013, there is no country that now has a smaller economy than it did back in 1960.
The report says “Nearly 1.7 billion people planet-wide live in countries where the average income per capita was above $10,000 in 2010. That’s above the average income in France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium in 1960.”
It’s a kind of progress, no question, but again, in practice it matters little if all the “more” that exists is concentrated in just a few hands.
9 Global Literacy Rates Are Up
All the talk of the internet killing literacy is nonsense. There are more literate people in the world than ever before – even with 2015 UN targets sure to be missed.
According to UNESCO, 80 percent of the world’s women and 89 percent of the world’s men are now literate, with just 781 million adults around the world unable to read or write.
The numbers for children are even stronger, with 87 percent of girls and 92 percent of boys now able to read and write.
A couple of notes: strong literacy rates in developed countries push the total higher, and in developing countries the total is typically much lower. A lack of investment has also meant that goals to halve illiteracy from 1990 rates by 2015 are likely to be missed in many countries.
8 Child Deaths Have Dropped By 5 Million/Year
In the developed world, it’s an uncommon tragedy to see a child die before the age of five. In other places, it’s uncomfortably common.
According to Unicef, 19,000 children under the age of five die every day. By 2011 statistics, that amounts to 7 million per year, and it’s clear that there is a long way to go. The good news is that back in 1990, that number was 12 million.
The largest culprits are disease and malnutrition, and likely will continue to be a problem for a long time going forward. Still, there’s an amount of joy to be had in the fact that the world has come a long way to improving a deplorable condition.
7 Two Billion More People Have Access To Clean Water
Sanitation and clean drinking water are two of the most important elements in creating a healthy society. As of 2012, Unicef reports that 780 million people in the world still do not have access to safe drinking water – a problem, to be sure. But it’s important to recognize the great steps that have been made toward improving the lot of billions around the world.
In Unicef’s 2012 Update of its “Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation,” it says “Since 1990, more than 2 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water sources.” That’s a huge number, and while there’s still a lot to do, it’s proof that what is being done has been of value.
6 Polio Has Nearly Been Eliminated From Africa
Vaccines are one of the greatest triumphs in human history. They have allowed us to fight a number of devastating diseases and live healthier lives. There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that vaccines are bad for you. None.
An impending victory to be brought on by vaccines: with only six cases this year, it looks as though Nigeria has nearly eliminated Polio. As the last country in Africa to have endemic cases of the virus, Nigeria’s defeat of Polio will not only snuff out that virus’ hold on itself, but also prevent it from moving into other countries.
Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only other countries with endemic cases, so a victory in Nigeria will be a huge step toward complete elimination of polio. It would join smallpox and rinderpest in that distinction.
5 Cancer Death Rates Are Down 20 Percent
One of the biggest killers around, cancer takes many different forms. The disease is devastating, and the treatments often give it a run for its money in how they drain the sufferer. We’ve seen headlines claiming cancer has been cured at least yearly, but the death toll rises and the disease continues on, seemingly unchecked.
There’s reason to be hopeful, though: since 1991, cancer death rates dropped by 20 percent in America, with similar improvements in life expectancy in many other countries around the world. Of course, the numbers are skewed, with wealthier patients doing better than the impoverished, but every little bit helps.
4 Only 17.8 % Of Americans Smoke
With all the other things out there that can give us cancer, being a smoker just doesn’t make sense. Americans seem to be catching on – just under 18 percent of Americans smoke, compared to nearly 21 percent in 2005.
The same trend is being reported in many other countries. England’s smoking rates had fallen to 19.5 percent in 2013, reported by the BBC as being “at their lowest ever,” and Canada’s smoking rate dropped from 23 percent in 2003 to 19.9 in 2011.
Alternative tobacco products have also become more popular in recent years, in particular in the form of e-cigarette vapour products.
3 Drug Use Is Falling All Over
With the exception of cannabis, which seems to have seen something of an uptick in recent years, youth drug use looks like it’s falling off a cliff.
Europe Against Drugs reports that the number of youths in drug treatment has dropped considerably, with special attention to be paid to the 75 percent reduction in the number of people seeking help for opiate addiction. The report also notes that treatment is improving for those who do need help.
Similar findings have been made in America. HealthDay also notes that underage binge drinking is down nearly two percent among America’s youth.
2 American Teen Pregnancy Rates Down 57%
Teenagers get pregnant all over, but it’s very much the exception, which is why America’s comparatively high rate has been troubling for so long. Thankfully, things are changing for the better, and more people are waiting to get themselves in a family way.
According to the CDC, just 274,641 children were born to mothers under the age of 20 in 2013. That’s 57 percent lower than the peak, which came in 1970.
It would seem 57 is the magic number, as that is also the reduction in the birth rate for teen parents since 1991. More young people are getting their affairs in order before starting a family, which takes pressure off of, among other things, social programs.
1 Spaceflight Is Getting Cheaper
Dreamers see the stars and long for the day when humanity sets out to explore them. Business-minded folk, on the other hand, might salivate at the idea of mining the rare minerals that are so abundant in near-Earth asteroids.
Whatever the motivation, the good news is that it is getting cheaper and cheaper to go out into space. On the commercial front, Business Insider points out that where tickets to orbit once cost $20-35 million, they now cost just $200,000. Innovations by private companies, meanwhile, are advancing rocketry and other space tech to heights never yet seen. With several planned missions to Mars in our near future, it looks as though humanity is finally ready to spread through the solar system.