This item summarizing what proportions of common traits would be like if we could shrink the earth’s population to a village of precisely 100 people has been circulated on the Internet for many years, and many readers seem to find the contrasts it highlights between the “haves” and “have-nots” of the world compelling. However, much of the information it presented was questionable, out of date, or poorly-defined even when it was new, and the passage of time has only made it less accurate.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 2001]
If we could shrink the earth’s population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all the existing human ratios remaining the same, it would look something like the following.
There would be:
– 57 Asians
– 21 Europeans
– 14 from the Western Hemisphere, both north and south
– 8 Africans
– 52 would be female
– 48 would be male
– 70 would be non-white
– 30 would be white
– 70 would be non-Christian
– 30 would be Christian
– 89 would be heterosexual
– 11 would be homosexual
– 6 people would possess 59% of the entire world’s wealth and all 6 would be from the United States.
– 80 would live in substandard housing
– 70 would be unable to read
– 50 would suffer from malnutrition
– 1 would be near death; 1 would be near birth
– 1 (yes, only 1) would have a college education
– 1 would own a computer
Since we first wrote about this item back in 2000, all the information presented below is relative to conditions as they existed in that year:
14 from the Western Hemisphere, both north and south
According to the United Nations World Population Prospects document, the world population in the year 2000 was about 6.7 billion, with this geographic distribution:
– Africa: 794,000,000
– Asia: 3,672,000,000
– Latin America and Caribbean: 519,000,000
– Europe: 727,000,000
– North America: 314,000,000<
– Oceania: 51,000,000
If we calculate the corresponding percentages (and lump North America, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Oceania into the "western hemisphere" category), we get the following ratios for our population of 100:
– Asians: 60<
– Europeans: 12<
– Western Hemisphereans: 15 (9 Latin Americans/Caribbeans, 5 North Americans, 1 Oceanian)
– Africans: 13
52 would be female
48 would be male
According to that same United Nations document, the world population in the year 2000 consisted of 3,051,099,000 men and 3,005,616,000 women, which (with a little rounding) breaks down to 50 men and 50 women in a population of 100.
70 would be non-white
30 would be white
Here we run into definitional problems trying to lump entire continents’ worth of people into one class based on some nebulous concept of color. What makes a person “white” or “Black”? If we say that Africans are considered “Black,” does that categorization apply equally to Nigerians, Egyptians, and South Africans? (Is the Middle East part of Africa or Asia?) Should the classification of Asians as “white” or “non-white” be based solely upon skin tone, or upon geographical and cultural factors as well?
The numbers given here seem to be based upon the classification of Europeans and Western Hemisphereans as “white” and Africans and Asians as “non-white” (and the assumption that those continents are homogeneous in racial composition). With those qualifications, a population of 100 (based on year 2000 numbers) would include 27 whites and 73 non-whites.
70 would be non-Christian
30 would be Christian
According to the chart at Adherents.com, which provides estimates of “the number of people who have at least a minimal level of self-identification as adherents” of a particular religion, the world’s population in early 2001 was 33% Christian. So, our reduced population of 100 would be composed of 33 Christians and 67 non-Christians.
89 would be heterosexual
11 would be homosexual
This one is almost impossible to estimate with any reasonable degree of accuracy. The classification of people as being either “heterosexual” or “homosexual” is too dependent upon subjective criteria, and the answers of respondents to surveys about their sexual habits are too easily influenced by other social factors. The common figure of “10% of the population is homosexual” is often bandied about, but that number is derived from a misapplication of a Kinsey study which was not based upon a representative sample of the population. One can find estimates that place of the percentage of the population considered to be homosexual anywhere between 1-2% and 25%-35%, but a reasonable survey of the more controlled studies would put the figure in about the 2-3% range (for males, at least).
6 people would possess 59% of the entire world’s wealth, and all 6 would be from the United States.
This claim demonstrates the precariousness of trying to summarize a very large, diverse population in a few simple statistics. For starters, our miniature world of 100 people only includes 5 people from all of North America, so any statement involving 6 people from the United States just doesn’t compute.
“Wealth” is a concept difficult to measure with any precision, but we can use Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a reasonable approximation. If we take some figures from the CIA’s World Factbook 2000, we find that the estimated GDP of the United States in 1999 was $9.255 trillion, out of a world total of $40.7 trillion. In other words, in 1999 the United States possessed about 23% of the world’s wealth. If we assume that all 5 North Americans in our miniature world are from the United States, and that they have inherited an amount of wealth proportional to that held by the United States in the “real” world, together they’d still have only 23% of the world’s wealth, not 59%. Even if you could find some combination of 6 people in our putative population of 100 who held 59% of the total wealth, they wouldn’t all be from the United States.
80 would live in substandard housing
This statement can’t be assessed without knowing the definition of “substandard” being employed here. “Substandard” by whose standards? And if a full 80% of the world’s population truly lives in “substandard” housing, doesn’t that indicate whatever standard is being used must be too high?
Estimates for this figure are all over the map as well (some United Nations housing statistics are informative but don’t really answer the question), but a 1999 article in International Wildlife puts the estimate at 33%, not the 80% figure offered here.
70 would be unable to read
A 1998 UNICEF study put the world illiteracy rate at 16%, well short of the 70% claimed here.
50 would suffer from malnutrition
The World Health Organization puts the malnutrition figure at about 33%.
1 would be near death
1 would be near birth
This statement is simply too vague to evaluate. At any given time, one person in a hundred is near death? Just how “near”? Is age a factor in this statistic?
1 (yes, only 1) would have a college education
Again, we have to know whether our miniature world’s inhabitants represent current population trends in age as well as other factors. According to the United Nations World Population Prospects document, the median age of the world’s population was 26.5 in 2000, with that figure being lower in less developed (and more populous) areas of the world. (The median age of Africans, for example, was only 18.4 in 2000.) So, this statistic could be true simply because much of our miniature population would be too young to have finished college yet (assuming that “having a college education” means “graduated with the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree”). However, if we assume everyone in our miniature world is of sufficient age and apply the current graduation rates of the USA (33%) to its share of the population (5), we’d have almost two college graduates from America alone. And other parts of the world (e.g., New Zealand, Netherlands, Britain, and Norway) have graduation rates equal to or higher than the USA’s.
1 would own a computer
Computer ownership rates in the USA now indicate that over 50% of American households have computers, so if we assume that “households” can be equated with “people” in our miniature world, our 5 Americans alone would have at least two computers between them.