Thought for the day

The Age of Equality

Life expectancy equalises globally at a rate unheard of
in demographic history

Last updated: 3 July 2024
It is a common belief, fostered by economists such as Thomas Piketty, that we live in an age of great inequality. This is partly true in economic terms in some countries. But in more general global terms the reality presents the opposite of this belief.

Excluding the tiny minority of billionaires and dictators, our age is characterised by massively increasing equality. Global data shows that an extraordinary reduction in inequality has taken place in both life expectancy and incomes around the world since 1950.

The chart below shows the gap in life expectancy between the developed countries of Europe and the USA, and the developing countries of Asia and Africa. This gap has narrowed since the end of the second World War at an unprecedented rate. In 1950, life expectancy in China was a lowly 45 years. Today, life expectancy in China is almost the same as that in the USA at over 79 years. Few forms of progress are more beneficial than extended life.

Life Expectancy: Last 70 years
Source: United Nations - World Population Prospects Database
The Age of Equality

Similarly, many countries in Asia have become wealthier significantly faster than the UK and USA did during the first wave of industrialisation. China, India, South Korea, and others have progressed at an astonishing rate, narrowing and in some cases equalling differences in GDP per capita.

Financial inequality within the USA and some other countries has increased. But globally we live in an era of much greater equality, both financially and, more importantly, life expectancy.
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More perspectives using World Economics data