Morgan Housel at The Motley Fool lists the 50 reasons we’re living through the greatest period in world history.
Here are 22 of my favourites:
- U.S. life expectancy at birth was 39 years in 1800, 49 years in 1900, 68 years in 1950, and 79 years today.
The average newborn today can expect to live an entire generation longer than his great-grandparents could.
- In 1949, Popular Mechanics magazine made the bold prediction that someday a computer could weigh less than 1 ton. I wrote this sentence on an iPad that weighs 0.73 pounds.
- The average American now retires at age 62.
One hundred years ago, the average American died at age 51.
Enjoy your golden years — your ancestors didn’t get any of them.
- In his 1770s book The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith wrote: “It is not uncommon in the highlands of Scotland for a mother who has borne 20 children not to have 2 alive.”
Infant mortality in America has dropped from 58 per 1,000 births in 1933 to less than six per 1,000 births in 2010, according to the World Health Organization. There are about 11,000 births in America each day, so this improvement means more than 200,000 infants now survive each year who wouldn’t have 80 years ago. That’s like adding a city the size of Boise, Idaho, every year.
- No one has died from a new nuclear weapon attack since 1945.
If you went back to 1950 and asked the world’s smartest political scientists, they would have told you the odds of seeing that happen would be close to 0%.
You don’t have to be very imaginative to think that the most important news story of the past 70 years is what didn’t happen. Congratulations, world.
- Two percent of American homes had electricity in 1900. J.P Morgan (the man) was one of the first to install electricity in his home, and it required a private power plant on his property.
Even by 1950, close to 30% of American homes didn’t have electricity.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that virtually all homes were powered. Adjusted for wage growth, electricity cost more than 10 times as much in 1900 as it does today, according to professor Julian Simon.
- According to the Federal Reserve, the number of lifetime years spent in leisure — retirement plus time off during your working years — rose from 11 years in 1870 to 35 years by 1990.
Given the rise in life expectancy, it’s probably close to 40 years today.
Which is amazing: The average American spends nearly half his life in leisure.
If you had told this to the average American 100 years ago, that person would have considered you wealthy beyond imagination.
- In 1952, 38,000 people contracted polio in America alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In 2012, there were fewer than 300 reported cases of polio in the entire world.
- Worldwide deaths from battle have plunged from 300 per 100,000 people during World War II, to the low teens during the 1970s, to less than 10 in the 1980s, to fewer than one in the 21st century, according to Harvard professor Steven Pinker. “War really is going out of style,” he says.
- Almost no homes had a refrigerator in 1900, according to Frederick Lewis Allan’s The Big Change, let alone a car.
Today they sell cars with refrigerators in them.
- Adjusted for overall inflation, the cost of an average round-trip airline ticket fell 50% from 1978 to 2011, according to Airlines for America.
- According to the Census Bureau, the average new home now has more bathrooms than occupants.
- Google Maps is free. If you think about this for a few moments, it’s really astounding.
It’s probably the single most useful piece of software ever invented, and it’s free for anyone to use.
- The death rate from strokes has declined by 75% since the 1960s, according to the National Institutes of Health. Death from heart attacks has plunged, too: If the heart attack survival had had not declined since the 1960s, the number of Americans dying each year from heart disease would be more than 1 million higher than it currently is.
- The average American work week has declined from 66 hours in 1850, to 51 hours in 1909, to 34.8 today, according to the Federal Reserve. Enjoy your weekend.
- Incomes have grown so much faster than food prices that the average American household now spends less than half as much of its income on food as it did in the 1950s.
Relative to wages, the price of food has declined more than 90% since the 19th century, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- More than 40% of adults smoked in 1965, according to the Centers for Disease Control. By 2011, 19% did.
- In 1900, 44% of all American jobs were in farming. Today, around 2% are. We’ve become so efficient at the basic need of feeding ourselves that nearly half the population can now work on other stuff.
- U.S. oil production in September was the highest it’s been since 1989, and growth shows no sign of slowing. We produced 57% more oil in America in September 2013 than we did in September 2007. The International Energy Agency projects that America will be the world’s largest oil producer as soon as 2015.
- From 1920 to 1980, an average of 395 people per 100,000 died from famine worldwide each decade.
During the 2000s, that fell to three per 100,000, according to The Economist.
- As recently as 1950, nearly 40% of American homes didn’t have a telephone.
Today, there are 500 million Internet-connected devices in America, or enough for 5.7 per household.
- You need an annual income of $34,000 a year to be in the richest 1% of the world, according to World Bank economist Branko Milanovic’s 2010 book The Haves and the Have-Nots.
To be in the top half of the globe you need to earn just $1,225 a year.
For the top 20%, it’s $5,000 per year. Enter the top 10% with $12,000 a year. To be included in the top 0.1% requires an annual income of $70,000.
America’s poorest are some of the world’s richest.