The world is going to miss Hans Rosling, the preternaturally entertaining Swedish statistician who died in February 2017. The man had a brilliant way of bringing dry statistics down to our level and helping us see the meaning behind them. He taught global health at Karolinska Institutet in Solna, Sweden, and gave a series of memorable TED talks.
Rosling was also one of the founders of Gapminder, an incredible “fact-tank” — as opposed to “think tank” — whose mission is supplanting the wealth of disinformation floating around out there with actual, data-backed facts. It’s eye-opening and a ton of fun if you like knowing things. Much like Rosling himself.
As a tribute to Rosling, here are some of the big truths he told in data.
1) The entire world is moving towards health and wealth.
Watch this. It shows how overall, though plenty of troubling disparities remain, the world has moved toward health and wealth in the last 200 years. And it’s a great example of how Rosling makes statistics so much fun and easy to understand.
2) There’s a connection between child survival rates and a strong economy.
Survival rates and a strong economy go hand-in-hand, though, as Rosling says, “It seems you can move much faster if you’re healthy first than if you’re wealthy first.” He notes that a decrease in Asian family size was followed by the area’s economic boom, and asserts further that wealth without an investment in health apparently can’t even last.
3) Family planning never happens until there’s a reasonable expectation that each child will survive.
Historically, it’s always required certainty that one’s children will survive before parents feel confident enough to stop having “spares.” Couples can only stop at their desired family size when there’s a reasonable expectation everyone is here to stay. Rosling shows how this has worked in the past, in his explanation of why the world population is pretty guaranteed to hit 11 billion and stay there for a while.
4) There’s a connection between poverty, survival rates, and family size.
Families grow in size when their children are likely to die in poverty. The reason? Couples feel the need to have a lot of kids just to ensure they have a family.
5) As a result of ongoing poverty, the population of Africa is expanding brutally.
While Asia’s population is leveling out as health increases and economies there thrive, the situation in Africa remains precarious. Ongoing poverty resulting from a range of factors keeps communities poor, child survival rates low, and families large.
6) International aid is the most practical way to control world population and promote well-being, and we’re making progress.
When international aid helps ensure that more kids survive, families eventually shrink in size, and economies expand, as the data shows over and over again. And there’s good news.