Global development trends 2020

Is the world becoming a better place to live? What do the latest trends in global development suggest?

How much progress has been made towards global development since the year 2000?

In this post I examine the global trends in development since the year 2000 according to key statistics from the World Bank, United Nations and other global institutions to try and answer the question: ‘do we live in a better world at the end of 2020 compared to 20 years ago?

This post has been written primarily for A-level sociology students studying the Global Development option for Paper 2 (7192/2), AQA Specification.

I aim to produce a post like this every two years, to keep abreast of the latest trends in Development.

Global Statistics

In this post I am focusing on whole world trends, or truly global statistics, so the very highest level of generalisation to provide an overview, in what you might call the Positivist tradition!

However, at the end of 2020 it is especially difficult to make judgements about the extent of development because of the impact of Coronavirus – we simply don’t know what the medium to long term consequences of this will be on global development.

The chances are that Coronavirus will impact the future development of regions, countries and communities within countries in very different ways, so now more than ever it will be important for students to try to qualify any generalisations about development suggested by the global statistics I am looking at below.

Key Indicators of Development

There is considerable debate over what the most valid indicators of development are, because definitions of ‘development’ vary widely. For this reason I include below several indicators of development, including:

  • The Human Development Index
  • Gross National Income (GNI) per capita
  • Extreme poverty statistics (those living on less than $1.90 a day)
  • National debt as a proportion of GNI
  • The employment ratio (the proportion of working age adults in employment)
  • Life Expectancy
  • The infant mortality rate
  • The adult literacy rate
  • Access to electricity
  • Peacefulness as measured by the Global Peace Index.

If you want to find out more about exactly what these indicators measure and some of their strengths and limitations you might like to read the following posts:

Mixed Evidence of Global Development taking place since 2020

Some of the global indicators below suggest there has been significant economic and global development over the last 20 years, other indicators suggest there are significant challenges still facing us as a global population!

For example, the number of people living in extreme poverty has shrunk from nearly 30% of the population to less than 10% while Life Expectancy of females has increased from.

HOWEVER, these are just the global average statistics, and what you need to remember is that the averages will hide variations by country, and variations within countries. The later is especially important to consider – there are regions within some rapidly developing countries that are getting left behind. China and America are two good examples of this.

Some indicators suggest negative trends in development – such as increasing unemployment and increasing violence in some countries, and progress towards sustainable development seems slow.

The Human Development Index

The United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Index combines Gross National Income, Life Expectancy and Years of Education into one score.

Practically every country shows positive development having taken place since 1990, when HDI first started tracking.

The two countries with significant declines are Syria and Yemen, which have both unfortunately experienced serious conflicts in recent years.

Source: United Nations Human Development Reports

Gross National Income Per Capita

Gross National Income per capita stood at $5500 in 2020, this has more than doubled to $11500 in 2019.

However, growth has stalled since around 2014, and this is unlikely to change given the situation with Coronavirus!

Source: The World Bank

Extreme Poverty Statistics

The percentage of the world population living in extreme poverty (as defined by those living on less than $1.90 a day) has decreased from 27.7% to 9.2% from the year 2000 to 2017.

Source: The World Bank

External Debt of Low and Middle Income Countries

The total external debt of the 120 low- and middle-income countries was $8.1 trillion at the end of 2019, equivalent to 26% of their Gross National Incomes. 

Nearly 40 (1/3rd of) low- and middle-income countries had debts greater than 60% of their GNI, treble the amount which had such ratios in 2010. 

About 10 low to middle income countries (9%) had debts exceeding 100% of their GNI, 30% up from the number of countries in 2010. 

Depending on what you think the role of debt is in development, this could be seen as counter trend to development. Dependency theorists would certainly see the increasing debt levels of poorer countries in this way.

Source: The World Bank

The Employment Ratio

The proportion of working age adults (15+) in paid employment has declined from 61% in 2000 to 57% in 2020.

This seems to be a counter-trend to development, with what is effectively a 4% increase in unemployment over the last 20 years.

However, this does not take into account the fact that more 16-24 year olds may be in education for longer, increasing wages, the impact of huge numbers of women entering the labour market, or the billions of people who are subsistence workers or work informally, so this indicator is an especially challenging one to interpret in terms of what it tells us about development!

Source: The World Bank

Life Expectancy Trends since 2020

The life expectancy of females at birth has increased from 69 years on average in 2020 to 74 years on average in 2018

The fact that women now live 15 years longer on average certainly seems to be one of the most obviously positive indicators of development, going hand in hand with increasing gender equality.

Source: The World Bank

There has been radical progress made in improving the infant mortality rate over the last 20 years – it has reduced from 52.8 per thousand (0.5%) to 28.2 per thousand births (just under 0.3%).

However, the global average is brought down by the higher infant mortality rates in less developed countries, and there is significant room for improvement – in the UK and similarly developed countries, the Infant Mortality rate is only 5 per thousand (0.05%)!

Source: The World Bank

The Literacy Rate

The overall adult literacy rate (of both males and females) has increased from 80% in the year 2000 to 86% in 2020.

6% may not sound like much of an increase, but there is something of a generational factor at work here. One imagines that someone that was 40 in the year 2000 is probably not that likely to become literate by the time they are 60, which is going to be a lag on improving the numbers of people who can read and write.

Most of the improvement above will be due to the increasing numbers of children being taught to read and write at a young age, who then carry this through to adulthood.

Source: The World Bank

Access to Electricity

There has been relatively rapid progress towards getting more people access to electricity. In the year 2000 only 78% of the world’s population had access, by 2018 that had increased to nearly 90%.

That is an impressive gain from an already high base of 78%!

Source: The World Bank

CO2 Emissions

Carbon Dioxide Emissions are responsible for global warming and corresponding environmental instability and decline, which undermines all other aspects of development.

Sustainable Development only really became a main focus of development from the year 2000, and there seems to have been good progress recently on halting the increase of CO2 emissions:

However, there are many analysts who say that we need to decrease CO2 emissions rather than just hold them level.

Source: The World Bank

Trends in Peacefulness

Overall the world has become less peaceful since 2009, when Vision of Humanity first started its Global Peace Index.

Today there are 38 countries which are recored as having low to very low levels of peacefulness.

Trends in peacefulness are diverging (becoming further apart) – generally speaking those countries which were more peaceful in 2009 have become even more peaceful (mostly those in Europe), while those which were less peaceful have become even less peaceful (mainly in subsaharan Africa)

Sources: Vision of Humanity: The Global Peace Index

Conclusions

While many of the classic indicators of development such as GNI, health and education show signs of positive development, there are clearly challenges remaining – mainly around how to attain better employment levels, and the very serious problems of increasing conflict and how to develop sustainably.

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