How many people in the world have some access to electricity?

  • A. 80 percent
  • B. 50 percent
  • C. 20 percent

Correct answer

According to data from the World Bank and Tracking SDG7’s Energy Progress Report, at least 89% of the world’s population had some access to electricity by 2015. 

Why the Wrong Answers are VERY Wrong

B) 50 percent, and C) 20%

Of course there was a time when these answers were correct… but it was a long time ago. Reliable data on this topic goes back to 1990, at which point around 71% of the world’s population had at least some access to electricity.

The ignorance we found

Only 22% of our respondents got the answer right. That’s drastically worse than random chance.

In fact, once again, not a single country managed to score better than our chimps for this question. Norway and Sweden had the highest success rates, at 32% and 31% respectively, while Spain and Japan scored worst with just 14% and 15% correct answers.


So were there any positives at all here?

Well, perhaps. One thing we can say is that the least accurate answer—20 percent— was also the least popular. Meanwhile, around 6 out of every 10 of our respondents opted for the middle option of 50%. So, unlike some previous questions, at least our respondents didn’t automatically assume the absolute worst.

Why do people pick the wrong answer?

Once again, we have to point the finger at what we call the “negativity instinct”. This is the idea that the world is bad… and getting worse.

As a result of the media’s obsession with bad news—and our own human tendency to focus on bad things more than good things—the average person in a higher income country naturally assumes that the answer to most questions about the world will be negative.

However, most things aren’t getting worse. In fact, they’re getting a whole lot better, and have been for decades.

Back in 1990, 71% of the world’s population had access to electricity. You can look at that either way—on the one hand, 71% seems pretty good. On the other hand, more than 1.5 billion people have zero access to electricity.

But over the last three decades, that 71% has turned into 89%. As of 2017, despite a substantial rise in global population in the region of 2.2 billion extra people, the number of people lacking any access to electricity had fallen to around 820,000.

Sadly, our survey respondents were totally unaware of this.