Child deaths in Africa today are at the same level as in Europe in:

  • A. 1850
  • B. 1900
  • C. 1950

Correct answer

In Africa today, 7% of children die before their fifth birthday. That number is much higher than it should be, but is closer to what was common in Europe back in 1950, when 14% of children died before reaching 5 years of age.

In 1850, 38% of all children in Europe died before they reached age five, and the rate fell only very slightly to 34% by 1900). Imagine if that was the case today in Africa! Fortunately, child mortality has decreased significantly, not only in Africa but worldwide.

With declining poverty rates, improved hygiene and sanitation, introduction of and better access to vaccines, wide-spread basic healthcare, and improved women’s access to education, more and more children live to celebrate their 6th birthday and beyond.

Data source

The evidence for the correct answer comes from the United Nations World Population Prospects 2019 dataset –, as well as our own calculations

Europeans don’t realize Africa’s health is like Europe in 1950

The results weren’t great for this question, but our respondents did manage to score as well as the chimps on average: 33% chose the correct answer. With that said, it is disappointing and concerning that two-thirds (67%) thought Africa is currently at the same level for child deaths as Europe was back in 1850 or 1900.

Why do people pick the wrong answer?

Because they think that things are TERRIBLE in Africa!

People have an outdated view of Africa. We think about the images of Africa displayed on TV shows, the news, or in movies, where it is portrayed as being extremely poor, with people suffering, starving, or at war. While it’s true that some things are still bad — just like many parts of the world — some African countries are more like 60 years behind (not 160!) when it comes to children’s health. There’s a long way to go, certainly, but it’s not nearly as bad as our survey respondents thought!

There are 2 billion children in the world today, aged 0 to 15 years old. How many children will there be in the year 2100, according to the United Nations?

  • A. 4 billion
  • B. 3 billion
  • C. 2 billion

Correct answer

According to the UN’s Population Prospects dataset, the number of children in the year 2100 will be roughly the same as it is today: just under 2 billion.

The ignorance we found

The results for this question were terrible; just 15% our respondents answered correctly! More than twice as many would have got the question right if they had chosen randomly without even reading the question.

Why do people pick the wrong answer?

Pretty much everybody knows the world’s population is increasing, but the reasons why population numbers are increasing is widely misunderstood. 

Any suggestion that the number of children will rise over the next 100 years demonstrates a lack of understanding of the factors that cause population growth. So here’s a quick lesson:

Women are NOT having more children than they did in the past. Quite the opposite, in fact—women in most countries are having fewer children than they did 50 years ago. Population growth isn’t caused by more babies being born… it’s caused by more babies surviving to adulthood. More specifically, it’s caused by more babies surviving to adulthood in the poorest countries, where previously they didn’t.

And by the way, it’s not a prediction that the number of children being born each year will stop increasing—it has already happened. We’ve consistently seen a drop in the number of children born per woman globally since the mid-1950s, and it’s not a trend that’s going to stop anytime soon.

If you’d like to learn more about the factors that cause population growth, you can watch Hans’ TED talk on the subject here.