Our World in Data: the empirical evidence of how living standards are changing

www.OurWorldinData.org is a web publication - authored by Max Roser -  that tells the social, economic, and environmental history of our world up to the present day – based on empirical data and visualized in interactive graphs and maps.

 “What will our future be like? Is there no or some hope that things evolve in a good direction? Will we make progress? Data play a crucial role in answering these questions” (Optimism with Data, StaBlogs, 2016).

In 2011, Max Roser - an economist working at the University of Oxford - started working on the long-term project www.OurWorldinData.org based in and supported by the Institute for New Economic Thinking at the Oxford Martin School and funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

The target audiences are both members of the general public and academics: many members of the general public are interested in how the world is changing but find it hard to get access to the relevant research. To address this issue the OurWorldInData is  drawing together the best quantitative work and make it accessible by visualizing the data (under a CC BY-SA license).

In particular, the OurWorldInData shows how living standards around the world have changed (over the last decades, centuries, and millennia) across the following sixteen topics (clusters): Population Growth & Vital Statistics, Health, Food & Agriculture, Resources & Energy, Environmental Change, Technology & Infrastructure, Growth & Distribution of Prosperity, Economic Development, Work & Standard of Living, The Public Sector & Economic System, Global Interconnections, Political Regimes, Violence & Rights, Education & Knowledge, War & Peace, Culture, Values & Society, Media & Communication.

For each retrieved topic the quality of the data is discussed and, by pointing the visitor to the sources, this website is also a database of databases. Each data entry is divided into the following four sections:

All the data presenting history, trends and aspects are empirically analyzed, and visualized in statistical graphics with interactive timelines and maps. Covering all of these aspects in one resource makes it possible to understand how the observed long-run trends are interlinked.

The above-mentioned sixteen thematic clusters are divided into a number of subclusters. For example, the cluster ‘Food & Agriculture’ is divided in the following subclusters:  Food per Person, Hunger and Undernourishment, Famines, Human Height, Agricultural Employment, Land Use in Agriculture, Yields Fertilizer and Pesticides, Food Prices, Volatility of Food Prices. All data for the cluster ‘Food & Agriculture’ is quoted from The State of Food Insecurity in the World (FAO), FAOSTAT, FAO Food Balance Sheet data and other trustworthy sources.

The section ‘Agricultural Employment’ reports, for example, that “While more than 2/3 of the population in poor countries work in agriculture, less than 5% of the population does in rich countries. It is predominantly the huge productivity increase that makes this reduction in labor possible. Similarly the productivity increase makes it possible to reduce the agricultural land needed to feed a given number of people“.  

The section ‘Land Use in Agriculture’ includes, as follows, a projection of global arable land for the period 2010-2060. 

The section ‘Food Prices’ presents the empirical view of food prices indexes in different sectors and years.

In the section Global rise of education you can see, for example, vast advances in the average number of years spent in education worldwide, with most notable increases in the east and more recently, in Africa. 

The section ‘World Poverty’ reports that “The growth of the population caused the absolute number of poor people in the world to increase; only recently has the absolute number of people living in poverty started to fall as well”.

In a brief interview with Oxford University, Max Roser said that 'The empirical view of our world shows how the Enlightenment continues to make our world a better place. It chronicles how we are becoming less violent and increasingly more tolerant. The data displays how new ideas continue to improve living standards, allowing us to live a healthier, richer and happier life. It is the story of declining poverty and better food provision in a world we care about'.  

Source: Our World In Data

See also: A list of media coverage of Max Roser’s  work on OurWorldInData can be found here.
The audio file of the interview and their article about OurWorldInData can be found here.

It's often said that data is the new world currency, and the web is the exchange bureau through which it's traded.

If you are aware of any empirical dataset and data visualization tracking global trends, please tell us about it here!

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