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Are Things Getting Better or Worse?

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Are Things Getting Better or Worse?

Why assessing the state of the world is harder than it sounds.

The New Yorker,

5 min read
5 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Life is getting better for most of humanity. So why aren’t people happier?

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For most of humanity, life is getting better: Statistics reveal improving conditions for most people around the world. At the same time however, pessimism is running rampant: Despite the facts, most people feel conditions are getting worse. In a wide-ranging essay for The New Yorker, writer Joshua Rothman explores this paradox. Drawing from the work of historians, philosophers, pollsters and scientists, he explains why the world isn’t as bad as people think – and how they could be wrong. getAbstract recommends Rothman’s investigation to anyone looking for rational reasons for optimism.


Is life on Earth improving – or getting worse? Many people say the latter, but personal opinions don’t necessarily reflect the truth. Much of humanity is enjoying better conditions than their parents experienced: Poverty, violence and pollution are declining, while health care is advancing, people are living longer and, in general, attitudes are becoming more progressive. Given these facts, why do people often feel the world is getting worse? Many factors account for widespread pessimism: The news media have long emphasized negative developments and crises – and their...

About the Author

Joshua Rothman is The New Yorker’s archive editor and a frequent contributor to, where he writes about books and ideas.

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