Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: If we could shrink the earth's population to a village of precisely 100 people, that village would resemble one described in this piece.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 2001]
Origins: This thing has been circulating for ages (in Internet time) now, and people seem to find the contrasts it highlights between the "haves" and "have-nots" of the world compelling. However, much of the information it presents is questionable, out of date, or poorly-defined:
57 AsiansAccording to the United Nations World Population Prospects document, the world population in the year 2000 was about 6.7 billion, with this geographic distribution:
14 from the Western Hemisphere, both north and south
52 would be femaleAccording 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
48 would be male
70 would be non-whiteHere 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?
30 would be white
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
70 would be non-ChristianAccording 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
30 would be Christian
89 would be heterosexualThis 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
11 would be homosexual
6 people would possess 59% of the entire world's wealth, and all 6 would be from the United States.This
"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
80 would live in substandard housingThis 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 readA 1998 UNICEF study put the world illiteracy rate at 16%, well short of the 70% claimed here.
50 would suffer from malnutritionThe World Health Organization puts the malnutrition figure at about 33%.
1 would be near deathThis 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 would be near birth
1 (yes, only 1) would have a college educationAgain, 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 computerComputer 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
On the other hand, if this is the kind of material having a computer gives one access to, the inhabitants of our miniature world just might opt to do without them.
Last updated: 21 July 2007
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