The world had a rough year in 2015, with the ongoing civil war in Syria and rise of ISIS's international terrorism, the intensifying global refugee crisis, a spate of mass shootings in America, the rise of Donald Trump's racist presidential campaign, and so on.
But it's worth keeping things in perspective. For all the ways 2015 was a terrible year for the world, there is at least one metric by which it was a very good year. According to data from a United Nations report released this July, this year saw a historic decline in global poverty. The number of people living in extreme poverty has decreased so rapidly that it's been cut in half just since 1990:
This decline in global poverty has been mounting for now 200 years, and took off in the latter half of the 20th century. Decolonization and economic reform in places such as China helped much of the developing world catch up to the developed. Between 1990 and 2015, about 1.1 billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty (defined as living on $1.25 a day). That means that in just the past 25 years, a full seventh of humanity has been saved from terrible want.
This isn't a story you hear about much. That's understandable: It's a slow, gradual process. It's not as captivating at something like the refugee crisis or the rise of ISIS. And it's something that happens incrementally and in ways that are not made for TV: parents that can afford to send their kids to school, someone who can now afford health care to live a longer life, communities elevating themselves to better and happier conditions. Still, this is a phenomenon that has transformed hundreds of millions of lives around the globe. It is having a major and profoundly positive impact on the world.
The global decline in poverty is part of a broader trend. Global life expectancy is skyrocketing, battle deaths are at historic lows (despite terrible wars like the one in Syria), diseases such as HIV/AIDS are being beaten back, murder rates are declining, democracy is growing, and more kids are going to school than ever before. You can see this yourself: Here are two sets of 11 and 26 charts, respectively, that illustrate the overwhelming amount of data showing that the world is becoming a better place.
While a lot of data on 2015 hasn't been released yet, the deep structural forces that have combined to make the world better off in recent years seem to be continuing. Despite 2015's undeniably serious problems, the year was, by the narrow but definitely not meaningless metric of extreme poverty, one of the best in human history.