The world is actually becoming a better place

Despite a lot of bad news and dire predictions NZ Herald repeats a story from The Conversation on Seven charts that show the world is actually becoming a better place.

Obviously that means better for people overall, there are some who have had a deterioration in their situations, like in Syria and Yemen (wars are always crap for people, but there are fewer and smaller wars these days).

Of course this doesn’t look intoo the future and what may happen through things like over-population, pollution, depletion of resources and climate change.

Swedish academic Hans Rosling has identified a worrying trend: not only do many people across advanced economies have no idea that the world is becoming a much better place, but they actually even think the opposite. This is no wonder, when the news focuses on reporting catastrophes, terrorist attacks, wars and famines.

Who wants to hear about the fact that every day some 200,000 people around the world are lifted above the US$2-a-day poverty line? Or that more than 300,000 people a day get access to electricity and clean water for the first time every day?

These stories of people in low-income countries simply doesn’t make for exciting news coverage. But, as Rosling pointed out in his book Factfulness, it’s important to put all the bad news in perspective, reports The Conversation.

While it is true that globalisation has put some downward pressure on middle-class wagesin advanced economies in recent decades, it has also helped lift hundreds of millions of people above the global poverty line – a development that has mostly occurred in South-East Asia.

one of the big facts of economic history is that until quite recently a significant part of the world population has lived under quite miserable conditions – and this has been true throughout most of human history. The following seven charts show how the world has become a much better place compared to just a few decades ago.

I won’t include the charts here but this is what they claim:

1. Life expectancy continues to rise.

During the Industrial Revolution, average life expectancy across European countries did not exceed around 35 years. Now it is getting close to 80. It has risen to over 70 in most other parts of the world, except Africa but even there it is on the rise and now over 60.

2. Child mortality continues to fall

More than a century ago, child mortality rates were still exceeding 10% (and were much higher than that 200 years ago). This halved overall, and for many parts of the world it is close to 1%.

3. Fertility rates are falling

 UN population estimates largely expect the global population to stabilise at about 11 billion by the end of this century.

That’s still a lot more than the current population of about 7.5 billion.

4. GDP growth has accelerated in developed countries.

Low-income countries, including China and India, have been growing at a significantly faster pace in recent decades and are quickly catching up to the West. A 10% growth rate over a prolonged period means that income levels double roughly every seven years. It is obviously good news if prosperity is more shared across the globe.

5. Global income inequality has gone down

While inequality within countries has gone up as a result of globalisation, global inequality has been on a steady downward trend for several decades. This is mostly a result of developing countries such as China and India where hundreds of millions of people have seen their living standards improve.

6. More people are living in democracies

As of today, about half of the human population is living in a democracy. Out of those still living in autocracies, 90% are in China.

7. Conflicts are on the decline

Throughout history, the world has been riven by conflict. In fact, at least two of the world’s largest powers have been at war with each other more than 50% of the time since about 1500.

While the early 20th century was especially brutal with two world wars in rapid succession, the postwar period has been very peaceful. For the first time ever, there has been no war or conflict in Western Europe in about three generations.

All of these indicators are positive for us here in New Zealand. We live in the best of times ever in human existence, in one of the most human friendly parts of the world. We have a lot to be thankful for, but shouldn’t be complacent about future challenges.

Life expectancy improvements

This shows how much life expectancy (at birth) has improved around the world over the last two centuries.

While they have improved a lot quite a few countries still lag behind developed countries by quite aa margin.

Kiwisaver and low life expectancy

An interesting issue on Kiwisaver for people whose life expectancy means that the odds are against them making it to 65, they age you have to be to use your Kiwisaver savings.

NZH: Joan and Tim Fairhall take KiwiSaver fight to Parliament

A mother and son seeking access to his KiwiSaver funds before his likely premature death took their fight to Parliament today.

Joan and Tim Fairhall today made a submission to a select committee considering changes to tax law.

Joan Fairhall, is trying to get KiwiSaver laws changed that are preventing Tim from accessing his money before the age of 65.

Tim has Down Syndrome which will lower his life expectancy, and he may not live until he is 65.

There is an obvious problem for people with Downs Syndrome, whose life expectancy is about 60 years.

The only current ways to cash up early (before you reach 65: Accessing early

  • Buying your first home
  • Moving overseas permanently
  • Significant financial hardship
  • Serious illness

So no option if you just have a low life expectancy. There are common conditions that lower life expectancy, like diabetes.

Life expectancy in general in New Zealand (Ministry of Health) :

Title: Figure 5: Life expectancy at birth, by gender, Māori and non-Māori, 1951–2013

In 2013, life expectancy at birth was:

  • 73.0 years for Māori males
  • 77.1 years for Māori females
  • 80.3 years for non-Māori males
  • 83.9 years for non-Māori females.

So Māori males on average would get about 8 years to use their Kiwisaver savings, while non-Māori males get nearly twice that at 15 years.

This disparity would be more of an issue for Māori men with something like diabetes.

As a matter of general interest, life expectancy depends on when you were born. And if you survive until you are, say, 60, your expectancy increases.

Here’s a life expectancy calculator (from Fisher Funds).

Life expectancy and superannuation

One of the reasons given for needing to increase the age of eligibility for New Zealand’s universal superannuation is the baby boomer bubble that is will raise the number of people who qualify substantially.

Another factor is life expectancy – with more of us living longer that lengthens the time we are paid Super.

Here are life expectancy trends from Statistics New Zealand:


This is god for showing improved life expectancy trends, but I have always been unclear what this means for someone born in the 1950-60s. Perhaps we had a higher chance of dying young than babies born now.

This trend gives a better idea of what our expectations are now (subject to life’s lotto):


See information about this data.

In 1977 the Muldoon introduced universal superannuation for everyone from 60 years old.

Then average life expectancy for a man was about 65+13 years (18 years of pension), and for a woman it was about 65+17 (22 years of pension).

The age of eligibility was raise to 61 in 1992 and gradually rose to 65 in 2001.

In 2001 average life expectancy for a man was about 65+17 years (17 years of pension), and for a woman it was about 65+20 (20 years of pension).

In 2013-15 average life expectancy for a man was about 65+20 years (20 years of pension), and for a woman it was about 65+23 (23 years of pension).

So people are on pensions on average about three years longer than at the start of the century. And life expectancy is predicted to keep improving so this will keep growing – unless the age of eligibility is increased.

Life expectancy versus health expenditure


More spending for better health?

More health psending doesn’t nor necessarily pay off with better health outcomes, according to The Economist.

America’s big spending on healthcare doesn’t pay off

AMERICA remains the world’s most profligate spender on health care, according to a report published on November 4th by the OECD, a club of 34 mostly rich countries.

In 2013 America spent, on average, $8,713 per person—two and a half times as much as the OECD average. Yet the average American dies 1.7 years earlier than the average OECD citizen. This longevity gap has grown by a year since 2003.

Americans have the same life expectancy as Chileans, even though Chile spends less than a fifth of what America spends on health care per person.

New Zealand per capita total spending (PPP Int $): 2,447 (2006)

From what I can find life expectancy looks to be similar to Britain as well, so the Britain bar looks about right for New Zealand.

The US has a very expensive insurance based health system which inflates costs substantially but means that people who are fiancially poor are also likely to be health poor relatively.

The chart shows that the level of spending does not necessarily equate to the level of care.