06 September 2018 - 15:40
Our World in Data
The database that tells us who we are
During the 1400, every one-hundred thousand people 70 were victims of murder. In the 1700, the number had dropped to "only" 12. In 2016 in Great Britain, homicide rates were 1 to two-hundred thousand.
Data, sometimes, can explain us who we are and the direction we are taking. They can further convince us that, all considered, the world is improvable and it is, indeed, improving. To explain the direction our world is taking – or to help us clarify some aspects of it – a young researcher, based at Oxford University, has started a project called Our World in Data. Max Roser, a German economist, has built an enormous historical database, that allows to analyse data collected across a plethora of fields of study and throughout decades: from energy and technological development to world’s hunger and obesity, from demographic changes and public policy to fluctuations in world’s food prices. The database constitutes a gathering mechanism that explains how we live in our environment and how such environment is changing, for better or for worst. Starting to study those global trends that explain living standards in the world, Max Roser has thus built a tool able to collect data that deal with all aspects of social living. The database is divided in 16 all-encompassing macro categories, spanning from health to culture, from demography to technology. Each macro category is further divided in sub-groups. The health category, for instance, is composed of 15 sub-groups: from smoking to life expectancy, from cancer to infant mortality.
Over the last few months, infant mortality has been one of the most visited sections. So, what does this sub-group tell us? Infant mortality in Bangladesh has drastically dropped, from over 230.000 in the 1990s to roughly 75.000 in 2015. An estimate currently similar to that of Indonesia, where, however in the 1990s infant mortality was forecasted to be around 138.000 – a considerably lower number compared to that of Bangladesh. Interactive info-graphs allows us to compare different countries: selecting Afghanistan, we can see that 30.000 people died in January 1990. Last January, the same estimate had grown to 36.000 people. These numbers invite several considerations: Bangladesh and Indonesia are densely populated countries whereas Afghanistan is inhabited by less than 35 million people and has suffered uninterrupted conflicts over the last 40 years.
All considered, this database becomes functional once its data are intertwined and situated within a specific context. At times, results are surprising: looking at infant mortality, it can be noted that Botswana and Costa Rica currently have a 0% infant mortality rate -with the infant mortality threshold set at one month. This was also the case in 1990.
The website also has a blog section where data collection and analysis is explained. Within the macro area ‘Culture’, global adult literacy estimates, showing that adult illiteracy has dropped by 88%, are forecasted on data collected between the 1800 and 2014. Yet – warns Roser’ blog – “this global perspective on education leads to a natural question: What does it actually mean to be literate in this statistical sense?” This is not a simple question. Literacy rates are only a proxy for what we actually care about, namely literacy skills. The distinction matters because literacy skills are complex and span over a range of proficiency shades, while literacy rates assume a sharp, binary distinction between those who are and aren’t ‘literate’”.
In a further analysis dwells upon addictive substances and mental health issues. Estimates tell us that roughly 2.2% of the world’s population (164 million people), suffers from some form of addiction. An issue that specifically affects 5% of all people living in the United States and in East Europe. If we interrogate what substances does this estimate account for, we can immediately see that alcohol dependency accounts for more than half (1.3%) of the total (2.2.%). In-depth knowledge of such numbers ought to be the starting point to improve human and environmental wellbeing.
The Human Safety Net is a leading initiative promoted by Generali to the betterment of the communities where the Group operates. It supports the Generali’s vision of protecting and improving people’s wellbeing, beyond business-related affairs, by supporting the most vulnerable in line with Generali’s Charter of Sustainability Commitments.