A Mini Tour of Worldwide Data Published by Reputable Organizations Who Show Us the Real World
The word Everyman – or Everywoman – is defined as “a typical and ordinary human being,” which begs the question of – Does any such entity exist in our extremely diverse world?
Mankind’s Most Common Characteristics
Data reveals human characteristics most common to the greatest number. For example, out of the 7.6 billion people in the world, about 1.5 billion, or 20 percent, are Han Chinese, the world’s largest ethnic group. In comparison, as a white, non-Hispanic citizen of the U.S., I represent about 2.5 percent of the world population at about 199 million people. Moreover, the U.S. Census Bureau explains that by 2020 that percentage is expected to shrink by at least 20 million people, due primarily to an increasingly low birth rate among younger versions of me in the U.S.
We can gain more insight into our global-oriented identities by drawing from a wide variety of data that represent worldwide majority-based human characteristics. Here’s another, perhaps unsurprising, statistic: Christians are the largest religious group in the world, representing 31.4% of all known humans. What is the next largest religious group? According to the Pew Research Center’s most recent figures, Muslims run second at 23.3% and are gaining in numbers worldwide, estimated to occupy 29.7% of the world’s population by 2050, while Christians are estimated to stay the same at 31.4%.
The Han Chinese are mostly Buddhists of varied sects, and philosophically they’re Confucianists. Buddhists occupy fifth place at 7.1% of the world’s religions, and their numbers are expected to decrease to 5.2% by 2050.
A good number of Han Chinese could be Christian, since Christianity is the second most popular religion in China behind Buddhism, according to Pew. So, taking these demographics alone, a person of Han Chinese descent who was born into or converted to Christianity would probably find more cultural and religious-oriented commonality with more people on the planet than anyone else. Could a Han Chinese Christian be considered today’s Everyman? Well . . .
Pew is one of many extraordinary research organizations collecting and analyzing world population demographic and psychographic data. Their work, along with others in the field, are shown throughout this article.
A Man Named Mohammed Who Lives in Shanghai and Owns a Motorbike
So, how is our Everyman looking? While an early-start amalgam depicts our most common characteristics as Christian, Han Chinese, this person would also likely ride a bike or motorcycle (depending on where he lives) for his primary means of transportation. I say “he” instead of “she” because there are more males than females, although the difference is relatively miniscule, with World Bank’s most recent population statistics showing 3.65 billion women and 3.71 billion men.
Let’s give him a name. How about Muhammad? It’s “thought to be the most popular name in the world,” according to a 2014 article in The Independent, a UK online newspaper. Mohammad would more likely live in a major city, since the vast majority of people worldwide live in big urban centers. According to the World Health Organization, “urban population in 2014 accounted for 54% of the total global population, up from 34% in 1960, and continues to grow,” with estimates reaching 70% by 2050.
Let’s say he lives in Shanghai. Worldatlas.com puts its metro area population at number 3 in the world, with about 23.7 million people, which is two million less that Delhi at number two, and a whopping 14.5 million less than Tokyo, owning the top spot at 38.2 million.
He could be driving an inexpensive motorcycle or motor scooter. Six out of 10 Chinese own motorcycles, according to a 2015 Pew study. In addition, only 17 percent of Chinese households own a car. In the US, that figure is 88 percent. The Pew study also noted that “overall, bikes are more common around the world than cars. A median of 42% across 44 countries say they have a bicycle in working order in their home.”
Upward Mobility for Rural Poor
Owning a bicycle is a ticket to upward mobility for millions of rural poverty-stricken people, in some ways similar to owning a decent car in much wealthier countries. The late world-renowned statistician Hans Rosling shows this during a BBC one-hour presentation in November 2013, titled “Don’t Panic: The Facts About Population.” Rosling frequently presented eye-opening stats about the world to large audiences around the globe through his now famous bubble charts and maps bolstered by his infectious, story-telling enthusiasm, all accomplished through his Swedish company, Gapminder, now managed by his son and daughter-in-law.
In Don’t Panic he profiled an agricultural family of 10 living in Mozambique. Andre, the father, talks about how it took him three years of savings from the sales of his crops to put an adequate roof on his home. His next goal was to buy a bike. “If I get a bicycle (which he eventually achieves from selling harvested sesame seeds), I’ll be so happy,” he says, because it will allow him to get to the town market a lot quicker and easier than the 2-hours it takes to walk. Plus, a bike will give him the wherewithal to carry much larger crop loads to sell at the market and for travel to a health clinic in a more timely fashion when needed, as well as for finding work and traveling to an education facility that offers adult-learning sessions in math, reading and writing.
Eventually we see Andre coming home, elated, riding his newly purchased bike. “Now I want to save up to buy a motorbike to carry my wife and children,” he says enthusiastically with a broad smile. Andre’s struggles are not unusual, but they are also not the norm worldwide. There is still an enormous amount of poverty in the world.
A Complex Picture of Poverty and Incomes
According to Habitat for Humanity, citing statistics from the United Nations, 1.6 billion people, or 21% of the world population, live in substandard housing, and 100 million people are homeless. In addition, approximately 1 billion human beings – or 32% of the global urban population – live in slums. Data from the World Bank’s World Development Indicators 2017 show that, as of 2013, 3.5 percent of the world’s population live in extreme poverty, 41 percent of whom live in Sub-Saharan Africa, where extreme poverty has increased since 1990, as opposed to decreasing everywhere else in the world.
Getting a definitive and current picture of income comparisons worldwide is a complex exercise. If we go by Pew’s most recent data, “13% of the world’s population could be considered middle income in 2011,” and “most people in the world were either low income (56%) or poor (15%), while only 9% lived at an upper-middle-income standard and 7% were high income.”
Rosling also covers income levels worldwide. More recent stats outlined in his 2018 book, Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World–and Why Things Are Better Than You Think, show that 9% of the world lives in low-income countries today, and “those countries are not nearly as terrible as people think.”
That really depends, however, on what kind of thinking . . .
Rosling’s world needs more defining. He complicates things a bit (in my mind) when he says that “today, most people, 75 percent, live in middle-income countries. Not poor, not rich, but somewhere in the middle and starting to live a reasonable life.” What he means, perhaps, is that like the earlier cited Pew data, the 75 percent are more likely part of the 56% low income, at least by the standards of today’s wealthy nations. In my opinion, clearly identifying the parameters of worldwide low- to middle-income status is a topic more suited for debate among economics professors.
Andre and his family are lumped in the non-terrible/75 percent category, but their lives are extremely difficult and in desperate need of help from wealthier countries.
At another point in his book Rosling does define the middle majority as “really bad in many ways [similar to Andre’s family], but they are not at or below the level of Afghanistan, Somalia, or Central African Republic, the worst places to live on the planet.” He then writes how “perhaps they are not what we think of as middle class, but they are not living in extreme poverty. Their girls go to school, their children get vaccinated, they live in two-child families, and they want to go abroad on holiday, not as refugees.”
Incidentally, Bill Gates is such a big fan of Factfulness that he recently offered to give away free digital versions to every Spring 2018 U.S. college graduate.
For an image-rich view of how people live, see Vice president of Gapminder Anna Rosling Rönnlund’s amazing online photo spread, called Dollar Street, showing a variety of rooms and common items inside homes around the globe. Her team visited with 264 families in 50 countries and took 30,000 photos of their domiciles, organized by poorest to richest income levels on one imaginary street. In a 2017 Ted Talk she explained how a representative 5 billion people in the middle of the street have plenty of common ground, including electricity, kitchen utensils, writing instruments, shoes, a ceiling that does not leak, and possibly a cell phone and toys for the kids. “The person staring back at us from the other side of the world actually looks a lot like you,” she concluded.
How Do We Work?
What are most common occupations worldwide? It depends where you live. Language Connections, a translation and interpreting service based in Boston, writes that in the U.S., it’s retail salesperson; in China, it’s a job with a manufacturing company; in India, the IT industry is the most popular job sector, but changing; in Australia, it’s work in the construction industry. Since our imaginary Mohammad lives in China, he could be a low to middle-income manufacturing employee, perhaps working on some sort of production line.
How Educated Are We?
What about education levels? Max Roser’s Our World in Data organization hosts another respectable site for viewing interesting and important stats, and it’s a great place to start learning about education levels worldwide. Roser points to many stats on education emanating from UNESCO, as well as from places like OECD, the CIA Factbook, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, and many others. In a section headlined “Global Rise of Education,” we are shown, for instance, that in 1970, 700 million people in the world had a secondary or post-secondary education, and, by 2020, that figure is predicted to grow to about 3.7 billion. In short, we keep getting smarter, with more people able to read and write than ever before in the history of the world.
The Longevity Revolution
We are also, of course, living much longer than years past, and quite significantly longer depending on what years you compare. Seventy-two years of age was “the average life expectancy at birth of the global population in 2016,” states the World Health Organization. “Since 1900 the global average life expectancy has more than doubled,” adds Our World in Data. Morocco took the top spot for 2017 life expectancy estimates, according to the CIA World Fact Book, at an impressive 89.4. The CIA estimated 2017 life expectancy at 80 for U.S. citizens. In China, where Mohammed lives, it was estimated to be 75.7.
Speaking of our friend Mohammed, let’s revisit his fictitious Everyman status: He’s a Han Chinese, Christian, living in Shanghai. Let’s put him at 30 years of age, since according to the United Nations population division the median age worldwide in 2015 was 29.6. He owns a motor scooter and is married with two children. In 1948, “women on average gave birth to five children each,” writes Rosling. By 2000, “it dropped all the way to the amazingly low world average of just below 2.5.” Mohammed lives in a modest high-rise apartment that provides an adequate, fully furnished shelter. He is also well nourished. “There are 216 million fewer hungry people than in 1990-92, despite a 1.9 billion increase in the world’s population,” according to the World Hunger Project. Mohammed works at a manufacturing plant, earning a relatively low to middle income. He is a high school graduate, entertaining the notion of furthering his education, and he will more than likely live into his 70s. In short, Mohammed’s living larger and better than any time in history, riding an upwards world growth trajectory that got its jump start during the early stages of the Age of Enlightenment in the late 1600s.
A Worldwide Turning Point
Historians point out how the Age of Enlightenment, also known as the Age of Reason, was a period of time in Europe, from 1685 to 1815, in which, very generally speaking, mankind changed his/her attitude on everything from politics, philosophy, religion, and spirituality to scientific discovery and independent free thinking, displacing mankind’s historic penchant to position the will of various unseen Gods and non-tested theories at the center of everything. It’s been a more positive than negative uphill climb ever since.
Steven Pinker, in his recent book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, explains how the Enlightenment’s application to the world “validates itself by granting us the ability to bend the world to our will, from curing infections to sending a man to the moon.
“Life before the Enlightenment was darkened by starvation, plagues, superstitions, maternal and infant mortality, marauding knight-warlords, sadistic torture-executions, slavery, witch hunts, and genocidal crusades, conquests, and wars of religion,” Pinker continues, adding that “life has gotten longer, healthier, richer, safer, happier, freer, smarter, deeper, and more interesting.”
As proof, just look at the data supporting our self-created, amalgam of a twenty-first century Everyman.
The Real Everyman
Still, in a kind of ironic twist that points toward emotion, religion and spirituality, the true ties that bind us together in similarity as Everymen and Everywomen place a strong emphasis on human morals.
The word Everyman harkens back to the title of a Christian morality play first staged in the late 1400s. In a remarkably prescient philosophical and spiritual representation of our current century, the aim of the play pointed toward a hero who represented all of mankind being talked to by a God – situated at the proverbial ledger book of the hereafter. And this God is tormented and sorrowful due to humanity’s fixation on gaining selfish material wealth only, as opposed to carrying out deeds for the greater good of humanity.
More than 500 years later, in a 2015 version of the play put on by London’s National Theatre, the hero Everyman (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, known internationally for his role in the movie 12 Years a Slave) confronts his own lack of good deeds as he deals with his approaching death. But the character really is not an Everyman who can line up with the definition of what might be considered typical and ordinary by most modern-day standards, such as the data presented here, which might be a person living a modest life, working full-time and struggling to pay his bills, grow, and get ahead in life. Instead, he is presented as a hedonist who takes drugs, drinks too much alcohol, and womanizes. He is reminded, of course, that all these life habits will not get him beyond the entrance of the pearly gates, and, in the end, all the material wealth and pleasure at his disposal throughout his life leaves him rather empty.
His standing in life relies on a moral point of view. In other words, being rich, poor, or in between does not define his Everyman status as much as his actual performance of good deeds throughout his life for the good of all.
Image by Chuttersnap on Unsplash.