Our Changing World
Welcome to The Bloch,
I wrote a letter last month exploring the Conflict in the Holy Land, and that got me thinking about history, war, religion, human rights, and culture at a depth that I haven’t dived to in some time. I’ve been mainly focused on my own world: paying attention to financial markets, technology, science, basketball, etc. In my world, these are “normal” things to spend time doing.
In thinking about these existential topics though, it became abundantly clear to me how little my world actually reflects the world. So I thought I would take a step back, and use this opportunity to look at some of the demographics of our world and how it is changing over time.
As of 2018, only 364 million people, or less than 5% of the global population of 7.6 billion lived in North America. According to the UN, the largest five sub-regions in the world are Southern Asia (1.9 billion people), Eastern Asia (1.7 billion), South-Eastern Asia (656 million), Eastern Africa (434 million), and South America (428 million).
Southern Asia is made up of mostly India with a population of over 1.3 billion or approximately 18% of the global population. Pakistan is the second largest in Southern Asia with a population of 216 million people.
Eastern Asia is made up primarily of China (1.4 billion), Japan (127 million), South Korea (51 million), North Korea (25 million), and Taiwan (24 million).
Southeastern Asia is very densely populated and highly diverse. Indonesia has the most people (267 million), followed by the Phillippines (106 million), Vietnam (95 million), Thailand (69 million), Myanmar (53 million), Malaysia (31 million), and more.
Eastern Africa is led by Ethiopia (115 million), Tanzania (59 million), Kenya (53 million), Uganda (45 million), Mozambique (31 million), and Madagascar (27 million).
South America is led by Brazil (115 million), Colombia (49 million), Argentina (44 million), Peru (32 million), and Venezuela (28 million).
Here’s a chart of the relative size of the global population by country.
And here’s a chart that shows the past and expected population growth by region through the year 2100.
The projections suggest that the population of Asia will plateau somewhere around 5 billion people around 30 years from now, and slowly decline from there. It also suggests the population of Africa will more than double to over 4 billion people by 2100.
So now that we know where the people are, let’s talk about what the people believe. According to Pew Research center, in 2015 Christianity was the world’s top religion by population. Over 2.3 billion people globally or almost 1/3 of the world’s population are Christians. 1.8 billion Muslims make up almost 1/4 of the world’s population. 1.2 billion or 16% are unaffiliated, over 1 billion Hindus, and over 500 million are Buddhist. Approximately 15 million Jews make up 0.2% of the global population.
Over the next 30 years, Islam is projected to grow the fastest, at a rate twice that of Christians and eight times faster than those who are not affiliated with a religion. So the Christians’ reign as the world’s largest religion is coming to an end in this century. Around the time the population of Asia levels off in 2050, Islam will overtake Christianity as the world’s largest religion, and the population of Africa will exceed that of Europe, North America, Latin America, and Oceania combined.
So historically, borders were set by religious tribes, and then empires spread and blended the culture of their home and the cultures of the people they conquered across vast swaths of the world. Today we have national borders, but religion and culture are largely borderless as many of these ideas and traditions have crossed the world thousands of times over at this point. This is obvious in the United States as we welcome so many immigrants from different parts of the world who speak a wide variety of languages.
Here’s a map of the prevailing languages spoken in different parts of the world:
There are over 7,000 known languages alive in the world today. Of these, 23 languages have at least 50 million people who speak it as a first language. The largest is Mandarin Chinese, with over a billion speaking it as a first language and over 200 million as their second language. Spanish comes in a faraway second place with over almost 500 million native speakers and over 75 million speaking as a second language. Arabic and Hindi are close 4th and 5th; both have over 300 million native speakers and another 250 million-plus who speak it as a second language. Other notable languages include Bengali, French, Russian, Portuguese, Urdu, Indonesian, German, and Japanese, which each has over 100 million speakers around the world.
English comes in third with almost 400 million native speakers, but it has almost a billion people speaking it as a second language. Including those people, more people on Earth know English than any other language. English is also spoken in over 100 countries around the world, followed by Arabic with ~60 countries and French with over 50 countries.
Here’s a chart of the relative size of the different languages used around the world:
So we speak all different kinds of languages, but English seems to be growing the fastest. This phenomenon is obvious when you compare the distribution of languages used on the internet with the distribution of native languages among the global population.
Even though English comes in third in terms of native speakers globally, over half of the websites on the internet use English. And while over 15% of the global population speaks Chinese, only 1.7% of websites have content in Chinese.
Here’s a visualization of internet users around the world as of 2012. As you can see, most of North America, Europe, Japan, Southeast Asia, and India are lit up, while much of China, Africa, and Russia are in the dark.
Here’s a visualization of the growth of the internet as a percentage of the population since 1990. You can see as the US, Canada, Australia, and Western Europe come online first, reaching 50–60% of the population using the internet by 2006, while countries like China and Brazil just reached 50% around 2014.
Here’s a global map of internet users by the percentage of the population as of 2015. Aside from pale blue Nigeria in Western Africa, the whole African continent was under 60%, with only a handful of countries like Morocco and South Africa over 50% online. China was under 60% while surprisingly, the United States had yet to reach 80% online as of 2015. Today, over 85% of Americans have access to the internet.
Here’s a chart of the growth of the use of the internet in the developed and developing world since 1996. As you can see, as recently as 2018, less than half of the global population was online, while that was over 80% in the developed world.
Over the last three years, approximately a billion people have come online, with over 330 million people coming online for the first time in the last year alone. As of today over 4.6 billion people or 6 in 10 people in the world are online.
It seems obvious to point out, but the reality of our world is that it is made up of a highly complex and diverse mix of individuals and groups. These people come from all different places and backgrounds, eat different foods, speak all different languages, worship different gods, and enjoy different cultures. The internet is working to blend these people and their ideas exponentially faster than any emperors or religious prophets or the founding fathers of the USA could have imagined.
As the internet spreads around the world and the free flow of information grows throughout this century, I think it is likely that future historians will look back and consider the creation of the internet to be the most influential event in written human history, and the third most influential event in all of human history (right behind humans learning to control fire around 2 million years ago, and humans beginning to use spoken language approximately 150,000 years ago).
As more of us become able to communicate and interact with each other online across borders, languages, and religions, I believe more and more people will choose to celebrate our differences and collectively drive us toward a world of unity and abundance rather than one of nationalism and scarcity. We certainly have our differences no one is denying that, but if we use it right, the internet allows us to actually see those differences, and realize that different doesn’t mean scary; it means unique and valuable.
Until next time.