How Was Life? Volume II

New Perspectives on Well-being and Global Inequality since 1820

image of How Was Life? Volume II

How was life in 1820, and how has it changed since then? This question, which was at the core of How Was Life? Global Well-being since 1820, published by the OECD in 2014, is addressed by this second volume based on a broader perspective. How Was Life? New Perspectives on Well-being and Global Inequality since 1820, presents new estimates of working hours, biodiversity loss, social spending and GDP (accounting for the 2011 round on purchasing power parities) as well as measures of inequalities in wealth, longevity and educational attainment, gender disparities and extreme poverty. A final chapter synthesises the historical evidence included both in the current and previous volume of How Was Life? through composite measures of the average well-being performance of each country, and of different within-country inequality measures. As was the case for the previous volume, this book combines both a historical and a global perspective, presenting estimates since 1820 for 25 major countries and 8 world regions. While this evidence sometimes relies on partial and limited evidence, each chapter in this book assesses the quality of the data used and identifies areas for further historical research.

This second volume of How Was Life? is the product of collaboration between the OECD and the OECD Development Centre, on one side, and a group of economic historians gathered around the CLIO-INFRA and Maddison projects, on the other. The historical evidence included in the report is organised around dimensions of well-being that mirror those used by the OECD in its report How’s Life?


Global extreme poverty: Present and past since 1820

This chapter relies on a global data set on basic commodity prices to provide first estimates of global extreme poverty in the long run using a “cost of basic needs” approach. Author’s affiliation: Department of History and Art History, Economic and Social History, Utrecht University. I wish to thank Marco Mira d’Ercole, Bram van Besouw, Tim van der Valk, Gareth Austin, Alex Kolev, Wouter Ryckbosch, Mark Sanders, Jutta Bolt, Aditi Dixit, Auke Rijpma and Jan Luiten van Zanden for their suggestions, comments and remarks. I particularly thank Bas van Leeuwen for providing price data on China, as well as for sharing digitisalised ILO price data (together with Pim de Zwart); Robert Allen for discussing his method and results; Leandro Prados de la Escosura for all his valuable comments and for sharing his newly updated long-run inequality estimates for Spain along with his invaluable remarks and comments; Guido Alfani for the inequality data on sub-Saharan Africa; Christoph Lakner and Prem Sangraula from the World Bank for sharing the CPI dataset used by the Bank for global poverty measurement; and Guus Wieman for his excellent research assistantship. I want to extend my gratitude to the participants at the 2017 Posthumus Conference, the 2017 Economic History Society Annual Conference, and the workshops organised by the editors of this volume in Utrecht and at the OECD in Paris. All analysis has been conducted with R open source statistical computing software (R Core Team, 2018[37]). All remaining errors are my own. For 135 years since 1820, more than half of the global population lived in conditions of extreme poverty. It took another 46 years to cut this rate in half, which only happened as recently as 2001. In the years that followed, the reduction of extreme poverty accelerated tremendously, and in 13 more years the global poverty rate was halved again. Compared to other available estimates, the world in the 19th century was less poor than we had thought, but poorer in the more recent period. Notably, the total number of people living in conditions of extreme poverty in 1820 stands at 757 million, which is almost identical with the count two centuries later in 2018, at 764 million.




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