Some Curious Results In World Poverty Rates — With Update People Say They Want (But Don’t)

Some Curious Results In World Poverty Rates — With Update People Say They Want (But Don’t)

The tweet above is from Human Progress. Thanks to @WrathofGnon for the tip.

It shows the number of people by region who live “in poverty”. It is a stacked line chart. Since stacked charts are a mortal sin, I decided to redo the plot so that you can see what’s actually going in each country. (Click to embiggen.)

The data are from the World Bank, freely accessible here. Somehow they calculated the fraction of people in each region living on less than $1.90 a day, to an astonishing level of accuracy. For instance, the proportion of folks in East Asia and Pacific in 2015 was 0.02316587. Not 0.02316586, but 0.02316587. They also said that 203,6616,227 people lived in that region that year. Not just astonishing, but amazing accuracy.

Anyway, from that data comes my chart, redrawn to emphasize each region. The results don’t look as good for Sub-Saharan Africa as they do in the Human Progress chart. And the Europe and Central Asia results are screwy, too.

The “Other High Income” Human Progress mysteriously left out, or maybe they call it the Rest of the world. Or maybe they meant the world minus the high income as the Rest. It’s hard to tell with the stacked chart. But Other high income means the USA and other common European countries, and places like Australia. By Europe and Central Asia they mean Albania, Belarus, Poland, Ukraine, and points east. Not what most of us think of when we think of Europe.

Notice very carefully, then, that the number of poor in places like (what we think of when we think of) Europe and the USA are increasing. Imagine that.

Now comes the exposure of the second sin. Numbers of people is fine if you want to know numbers of people, but it’s usually best to do “per capita” (that’s a sort of joke), which is the percentage.

That’s in this plot.

Picture is not as bad for Sub-Saharan Africa, which showed an increase, then a decrease in proportion of poor. And then the USA+Europe in Other high income has more of a U-shape.

Anyway, where are all the poor in Sub-Saharan Africa going? The number of poor are increasing, but the rate is falling fast. While our, and really Europe’s, is rising.

Update Folks are asking for same y-axis limits. I don’t like them, but here they are, to show why I don’t like them.

The idea above was to comment was going on in each region. That’s not possible now. But we can see what we already knew, that the USA etc. dominates.


  1. SameScaleMan99

    I would like to see all the graphs drawn to the same scale

  2. Sheri

    Since poverty is a defined variable and can mean whatever it takes to get the desired shape on the chart (witness the HUGE income amounts that count for poverty in the the USA and that income does not include welfare payments), all of this is basically meaningless. Fun for seeing “How to Lie with Statistics”, or “How to Achieve Desired Conclusion with Statistics” but beyond that, not much going on.

  3. Swami

    The scales on the charts are so disparate as to make eyeball comparisons deceptive. It would be more appropriate to keep the scales consistent across all areas. Doing this makes it apparent that extreme poverty is plummeting at an extraordinary pace globally, but bobbing up and down near zero in the richest countries (from just over .6 of one percent to just over .65).

  4. H

    “Europe and Central Asia” certainly includes the Soviet Union, and the timing of the increase matches the sharp rise for that “region”.

  5. SameScaleMan, Swami:

    That’s the way any competent statistician would do it.

  6. “I can’t figure out any intelligent way to put these curves on the same scale so you didn’t really want that.”

  7. SameScaleMan99

    I liked to see all the graphs drawn to the same scale

  8. Limit Suggestions Provider

    I suggest setting the upper limit to a billion poor, so as to compare the countries more efficiently, since there is no sense in comparing individual countries to the entire world anyway.

  9. SameScaleMan99

    I would also like to see the percentage graphs to the same scale

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