Extremes of Wealth and Poverty

I often return to the trove of statistical data on the world’s 242 sovereign states and dependent territories, as detailed online in The World Factbook of the CIA.

Here are some conclusions and speculations derived from the data in the chart displayed below, on the ten largest nations, by population, and the 27 aggregated countries of the European Union (EU).

Demographics of ten most populous countries 2012

These thirty-seven states comprise 65% of the world’s population, leaving 35% populating the remaining 205 states and territories. These 205 entities, except for an additional ten rich states which are included in the 205 (see below), are very poor. Their aggregate GDP per person (even including the few rich countries) is at 82% of the world’s average of US$11,800.

The world’s people see the USA, to a great degree, and the EU, to a lesser degree, as the places to which to migrate. Russia’s net migration rate of 0.29 per thousand can easily be attributed to the return of ethnic Russians from the former republics of the USSR and Eastern Europe.

Asian countries (China, India, and Bangladesh) are expanding their economies far in excess of the world average of 3.6%. Nigeria, in Africa, is in this same neighborhood. These four are the less developed nations in this study, as measured by the GDP per person—their numbers are far below the average for the world.  That the most developed nations (and groups of nations—that is, the EU) have high GDP per person, but below average growth rate, may be due in part to the high numerical base of productivity from which the rate of growth is calculated. The figures for Brazil and Pakistan run counter to this speculation, however.

China and India together hold 36% of the world’s population. China, at the number one spot in population, is ten times as populous as Japan, which is in the number ten position (1.8% of the world).

Russia seems to have particular problems in the male population and in a proper balance between the number of men and women. Male life expectancy at birth for the world is 65.6 years. A newborn Russian baby boy can expect to live only 60.1 years (on the average). The world’s average difference in life expectancy between females and males is 4.1 years, females living longer on average. In Russia, the difference is 13.1 years, with life expectancy at birth for females being 73.2 years. Also, Russia’s fertility rate is below the world average and below the rate at which the population can renew and maintain itself (see the next paragraph for further details). Russia’s population is, therefore, declining.

World net birth rate, 2007
Source: World Factbook of the CIA

The accepted figure for a country’s fertility rate which will, without regard to net migration, keep a country at a constant population is 2.1 births per woman. The world average is 2.5 births per woman. On the assumption that it is good for a country to have a fertility rate between 2.1 and 2.5 (irrespective of net migration figures), these countries are the outliers: Nigeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India have a fertility rate greater than 2.5; China, Japan, Russia and the EU have a fertility rate lower than 2.1.

The USA has a fertility rate of 2.1, and a high net migration rate, auguring well for a moderately growing population.

As indicators of the quality of life, especially medical care and health, are the figures for infant mortality (within 30 days of birth) and female life expectancy (at each woman’s birth), the latter including the likelihood of dying as a result of giving birth. The world’s average infant death rate is 3.96%. Four countries exceed this rate, most by a relatively large amount: Bangladesh at 5.91%; India at 4.61%, Nigeria at 7.44%, Pakistan at 6.13%.  Except for Bangladesh, these countries show lower than the world average in female life expectancy.

In looking again at the very high GDP growth rate in India (7.8%) and Nigeria (6.9%), and linking this observation with the poor condition of women and newborn children in these two countries, I get a mental picture of government economic policies not giving proper consideration to the people who should be among the beneficiaries of this economic growth.

The infant mortality rate in the EU is lowest at 0.45%, with the USA second at 0.60%. As a citizen, first, of the USA and now also of Sweden (a member nation of the European Union), I am glad these two countries have developed such that women and infants (and men as well, to be sure) have a better chance of surviving to a much older age than will citizens in most other areas of the world.

And finally, 195 of the 205 other entities are getting poorer, both relatively and absolutely. In order to get a more realistic look at the really poor countries, I made another chart to identify and remove from “the 205”, ten rich countries (not among the most populated or in the EU as in the first chart) where GDP per person is very large.


So, two-thirds of the world’s population has an average GDP/person of US$18,513  and one-third of the world’s population has an average GDP/person of US$ 1,775.

Just ponder this for a while. One-third of the people in the world live where their country produces goods and services at less than 10%  of the per capita rate (on average) that is produced in the rest of the world. And, the aggregate rate of real growth in GDP of their countries is a negative 1.5% (on average), so their circumstances are getting worse.

The way one interprets figures such as I show here is a function of one’s biases. Perhaps I have focused too much on the negative, or have overlooked some success story. I welcome any other interpretations and criticism.

One final note and a preview: China is the biggest player in the statistics shown here, despite its poor showing in GDP per person. My next article will focus on China, its growth in economic power and its growing role in world politics.

About Ron Pavellas

Expatriate Californian living in Sweden with wife. Retired from employment in the USA. Currently focused on blog articles and creative writing.
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