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How Was Life?

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How Was Life?

Global Well-Being Since 1820


15 min read
10 take-aways
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If you think poverty and inequality plague the world today, it’s a good thing you weren’t around 200 years ago.

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Editorial Rating



  • Comprehensive
  • Analytical
  • Eye Opening


Over the course of the last two centuries, mortality rates, education, nutrition and other measures of human well-being have improved by leaps and bounds. In this comprehensive study, the OECD explores the relationship between humanity’s increasing quality of life and its economic progress since 1820. While global average GDP per capita has grown more than tenfold from that time, the level of improvement in well-being differs enormously from region to region. This illuminating report raises more questions than it answers – such as whether improvements in the human condition translate into economic growth – but it provides valuable insight into how the world has changed in the last 200 years. getAbstract recommends this thought-provoking analysis to economists, historians, sociologists, environmentalists and anyone interested in global socioeconomic trends over time.


World Economic Development

Global economic history, which traces domestic economic metrics and comparative trends among countries, is a relatively new field of study. The OECD has examined various aspects of world development since 1820 by tracking 10 distinct measures of well-being, including GDP, income and gender inequality, and health-related statistics such as human height and longevity. Examining these data through nearly 200 years of history yields surprising revelations that may help nations plot their future paths.


Mortality and fertility rates have fallen in the last 200 years, with some regional variations. Birth and death rates increased in the 19th century in some European countries and overseas territories, but by 1900, those trends had reversed, with longevity increasing and births decreasing. By the late 1800s, higher infant survival rates led couples to limit the size of their families; compulsory education, child protection labor laws and the high cost of living drove fertility rates down in Europe and other Western countries. In non-Western countries, birth rates declined to a lesser extent due to societal pressures, such as ...

About the Author

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development is an international forum of 34 nations that promotes global economic advancement and trade.

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