In the last 20 years, the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty has…

  • A. Almost halved
  • B. Remained roughly the same
  • C. Almost doubled

Correct answer

The proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty has more than halved in the last 20 years.

In fact, rates of extreme poverty have dropped faster than ever before over the last two decades – from 29.5% of the world’s population in 1997 to just 9.1% in 2017.

Data source: World Bank and Gapminder

The ignorance we found

Just 9% of our respondents on average chose the right answer! That’s not even close to the chimps…

Sweden and Norway scored the highest with 25% each, which is still terrible. And Hungary brought up the rear with a shocking 2% of their respondents selecting the right answer.

So, what did people think? While almost a third of respondents thought levels of extreme poverty had stayed more or less the same over the last 20 years, 60% thought it had almost doubled. This couldn’t be further from the truth – in fact, it’s quite literally the opposite of what’s actually happened.

Why do people pick the wrong answer?

There’s a common misconception at play here: The world is divided into the very rich, and the very poor. And since everybody knows there aren’t a whole lot of very rich people, they assume the majority of the world’s population is living in extreme poverty. But that’s completely wrong; the overwhelming majority of people live somewhere in the middle.

Media and charity attention on the world’s poorest have skewed peoples’ view of how the world is. Since everything we hear in the news is negative, we form an unrealistically negative view of the world. Worst of all, we wrongly assume that instead of getting better (as most things do over time) important metrics like rates of poverty (and also crime, illness, etc.) are getting worse.

So instead of having a fact-based perception of the world that becomes more accurate over time, most people have an inaccurate view of the world that gets even worse over time.