I was starting to think about Father’s Day recently and mentally noted that meat is relatively inexpensive and plentiful these days. That may not sound like a profound statement, and your definition of inexpensive may radically differ from mine. But if you think about it, that couldn’t be said during World War II. Heck, it couldn’t have been said as easily as when we were kids.
What does that have to do with the state of the world and the humans who occupy it? If you listen to the news, you might very well think the state of the nation is terrible. Racial tensions appear to be at an all-time high. Several U.S. cities are experiencing a housing crisis. Homelessness appears to be on the rise, the economy is stalled, divisions among political factions are growing ever deeper, crime is everywhere. Our troops are deployed around the world with no end in sight, terrorism is increasing, and America’s enemies are rattling their sabers more than ever.
The thing is, this is the greatest time to be alive in human history. The reasons for optimism are everywhere. People are living longer, have access to more information, technology, nourishment, and economic advancement than at any time in human history. The bottom line is that our problems, while serious, are solvable. They’re not an indication of fundamental cracks in our society. We are growing, changing, evolving, and rising to challenges — in ways that are unprecedented throughout history.
Life expectancy is better than ever in human history
The average life expectancy at birth worldwide is 68.5 years for men and 73.5 years for women. In the developed world — the U.S., Europe, Japan, etc. — the life expectancy is even higher. We’re not just living longer, either. The quality of life as we age is also increasing. The average life expectancy for Americans who reach 65 years old is another 19+ years, and the average life expectancy for Americans who reach 75 is another 12+ years! Fewer than 10 percent of Americans over 65 live below the poverty line, which is 50 percent lower than the rate of all Americans. These numbers all exploded in the 20th Century, when medical science progressed enough to eliminate or greatly reduce many diseases and ailments. It’s only going to get better from here.
Poverty is decreasing worldwide
Much of the reason for the increase in life expectancy is that fewer people are living in crushing poverty, which makes people more vulnerable. As economic freedom is increasing globally, the rate of people living in extreme poverty has dropped from 43 percent in the early ’80s to 9.6 percent in 2015.
In the U.S., home ownership skyrocketed over the past 100 years as more people were able to gain access to wealth. From 1940 to 2000, the rate of home ownership increased from 43.6 percent to 66.2 percent.
Homelessness keeps dropping
If you live in or travel to any major U.S. city, especially on the West Coast, no doubt you’ve noticed an explosion of tent cities, bombed out RVs parked randomly, and other overt signs of homelessness. It would lead one to assume that there’s been a huge increase in homelessness. The thing is, it’s exactly the opposite. Homelessness is decreasing.
Violent crime is at its lowest point in decades
Despite what we see on TV every night — endless reports of carjackings, murders, rapes, police shootings, riots, and all the rest — the rate of violent crime has not been this low in 5 decades. Gun crimes have dropped 75 percent since 2011. Non-fatal violent crime has dropped from around 8,000 per 100,000 in population in the 1990s to just over 2,000 today.
Illiteracy is at its lowest point in human history
In America, we are leading the way. In 1870, 79.9 percent of African-Americans aged 14 or older were illiterate, but by 1950 it was down to 10.6 percent, and by 1979 it was down to 1.6 percent. This is just a snapshot in a larger global trend. People are getting smarter, and information is more readily available. According to the CIA Factbook, the total literacy rate (defined as age 15 and over can read and write) for the global population is 86.1 percent. That includes 89.9 percent of males and 82.2 percent of females. They also note that “more than three-quarters of the world’s 758 million illiterate adults are found in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa; of all the illiterate adults in the world, almost two-thirds are women.” While there’s certainly progress to be made in the developing world, it’s a far cry from the 12 percent of the world that could read and write in 1820.
The world is becoming more free
Beginning with the end of the Cold War, we’ve seen the number of democracies worldwide skyrocket, while the number of autocracies has plummeted. That makes intuitive sense, with the Soviet Union no longer propping up satellite states as communist dictatorships. It’s pretty cool to see it graphically:
Wars are less deadly
Despite the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and the U.S.’s two ongoing entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan, humanity is seeing a precipitous drop in deaths as a result of wars. Studies show that fewer wars are happening, and wars themselves are far less deadly. Think about it. The death toll in Vietnam was around 282,000 Allied deaths from 1965-1974. In the two wars of the 21st Century, in Afghanistan and Iraq, the combined death toll among Allied forces is fewer than 8,000.
Information has been democratized
Along with the aforementioned jump in literacy has come easily accessible technology and information. Gone are the days when a limited number of media outlets controlled the news, and gone are the days when information was housed in relatively inaccessible silos. Now, the internet is available at the touch of a finger. Mobile devices have replaced the need for a wired connection to the worldwide information superhighway. That means more people in the developing world have access, too. Internet usage has increased from 8 percent in the developing world in 2005 to 40 percent in 2014.
We spend less on food, electricity, and gas than ever before
Expenditures on electricity and natural gas, as a proportion of overall household income, have dropped in the United States from over 3.54 percent to under 1.86 percent between the 1980s and today. Furthermore, the percentage of household income spent on food has also plummeted, from 17.5 percent in 1960 to 9.6 percent in 2007. When I think back to my childhood, steak was a treat. Now I can afford to grill weekly for my family. We have more disposable income than ever, it seems.
Wine is more popular and more accessible
Speaking of grilling steak, more people than ever are enjoying red wine with their meal. It’s the Millennials who are driving this trend. There are now 7,700 wineries in all 50 states, and per capita wine drinking has nearly doubled since 1993. People are dining out more, and Millennials are interested in exploring the wine world. Wine tourism is exploding in America. Many colleges now offer four-year degrees in enology, as well as brewing and distilling. More than any time in American history, wine is becoming a regular part of our culture.
Technology is accelerating at breakneck speed, and that’s good for us humans
Ridesharing apps. Robots performing manual labor. Medical advancements. Computers and mobile devices that are orders of magnitude more powerful than the computers that guided the Apollo missions to the moon. Global communication. Global travel. Online learning. Endless examples of technological advances making life more comfortable, more convenient, and less stressful on our bodies, while improving our quality of life through increased productivity, education, and livability. How bout Gorilla Glass? Smartphones would not exist had smart people not essentially reinvented glass to do things it had never done before in human history. Meanwhile, cars are getting cleaner, air pollution is decreasing as manufacturing becomes more efficient, and there are endless examples of our environment improving while technology advances.
Teen Birth rates are falling, as more Millennials than ever before oppose abortion
From 2007 to 2013, the teen birth rate nationwide fell by almost 40 percent. It does not appear that this is due to an increase in abortion, which is becoming less popular among Millennials. While they do not identify as “pro-life” and generally reject social conservatism, more Millennials than previous generations believe that abortion should be restricted. They’re also having fewer babies before they become adults, which indicates that they’re making better choices than previous generations.
America is still the safest, most prosperous place on the planet
We’ve got our societal ills to conquer, but there is no place on the planet with more abundance and more resources available to more people. We rank 99th in the world in murders per million people. Our armed forces combined with our relative geographical isolation make us easier to defend than other parts of the world. We have the second most agricultural land of any nation on Earth. We rank 126th out of 164 countries surveyed for the percentage of population below the poverty line. America has the 105th worst air pollution in the world. We’re not even on the chart for our teen pregnancy rate. The United States remains the shining city on the hill.
In short, we have some stuff to work on, but things are still better than they’ve ever been in human history. So go out there, grill up some steaks for the family, open a bottle of wine, and celebrate human progress.