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The Joy Of Stats: 200 countries, 200 years, 4 minutes

Updated Thursday 25th November 2010

Using top-quality data visualisation, Hans Rosling takes us through 200 years of global development.


Copyright The Open University

(Because the nature of this episode makes it reliant on the data visualisation, we are not offering an audio equivalent.)


I teach global health and just as important as the data itself is to show it in ways that everyone can enjoy and understand.

I’m going to try to show you 200 years of world history with statistics. It will involve more than a 100,000 numbers brought to life I real space in less than four minutes.

So, here we go, first an axis for health, life expectancy, from 25 years to 75 years, and down here an axis for wealth, income per person, $400, $4,000 and $40,000. So down here is poor and sick and up here is rich and healthy.

Now I’m going to show you the world 200 years ago in 1810. Here come all the countries; Europe brown, Asia red, Middle East green, Africa, South of Sahara blue and the Americas yellow, and the size of the country bubble will show the size of the population, and in 1810 it was pretty crowded down there, wasn’t it? All countries were sick and poor, life expectancy was below 40 in all countries, and only the UK and the Netherlands were slightly better off but not much, and now I start the world.

The Industrial Revolution makes countries in Europe and elsewhere move away from the rest, but the colonised countries, in Asia and Africa, they are stuck down there, and eventually the Western countries get healthier and healthier, and now we slow down to show the impact of the First World War and the Spanish Flu Epidemic - what a catastrophe! And now I speed up through the 1920s and the 1930s. And in spite of The Great Depression, Western countries forge on towards greater wealth and health. Japan and some others try to follow but most countries stay down here.

Now, after the tragedies of the Second World War, we stop a bit to look at the world in 1948. 1948 was a great year. The war was over, Sweden topped the medal table at the Winter Olympics and I was born, but the differences between the countries of the world was wider than ever. United States was in the front, Japan was catching up, Brazil was way behind, Iran was getting a little richer from oil but still had short lives, and the Asian giants, China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, they were still poor and sick down here.

But look what is about to happen, here we go again! In my lifetime former colonies gained independence and then finally they started to get healthier and healthier and healthier, and in the 1970s then countries in Asia and Latin America started to catch up with the Western countries. They became the emerging economies, some in Africa follow, some Africans were stuck in civil war and others hit by HIV, and now we can see the world today in the most up-to-date statistics.

Most people today live in the middle, but there are huge differences at the same time between the best of countries and the worst of countries, and there are also huge inequalities within countries. These bubbles show country averages, but I can split them. Take China, I can split it into provinces. There goes Shanghai. It has the same wealth and health as Italy today and there is the poor inland province Guizhou, it is like Pakistan, and if I split it further the rural parts are like Ghana in Africa.

And yet, despite the enormous disparities today, we have seen 200 years of remarkable progress. That huge historical gap between the West and the rest is now closing. We have become an entirely new converging world and I see a clear trend into the future with aid to trade, green technology and peace. It’s fully possible that everyone can make it to the healthy, wealthy corner.

Well what you have just seen in the last few minutes is a story of 200 countries shown over 200 years and beyond. It involved plotting 120,000 numbers. Pretty neat, eh?

To find out more about the Joy of Stats visit the Open University’s OpenLearn website.

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Find out about how you can study statistics with The Open University - and try the StatsChoices website to create your path through study.


Hans Rosling talk at TED
UN International Human Development Report Indicators


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