A second measure of prosperity demographers frequently use is the infant mortality rate. The infant mortality rate is the number of children that die between birth and their first birthday, per 1,000 live births. Because the first year of life is when human beings are most vulnerable, their ability to survive the first year of life says a lot about the state of their society; thus the significance of the infant mortality rate.
So what can we say about this measure of prosperity throughout human history? Here are estimates typical of social scientists and economists who study these issues:
In the year 1000, the average infant could expect to live about 24 years. A third died in the first year of life. Hunger and epidemic disease ravaged the survivors. By 1820, life expectation had risen to 36 years in the west, with only marginal improvement elsewhere. (Angus Maddison, Contours of the World Economy, 1-2030 AD, 69)
Before industrialization, at least one out of every five children died before reaching his or her first birth day; that is infant mortality measured as the number of children dying before the age of one, typically exceeded 200 per 1,000 live births. … In the United States, as late as 1900, infant mortality was 160; …” (Indur Goklany, The Improving State of the World, 27)
Let's look at the change in the infant morality rate for the last fifty years:
Note that the average infant mortality rate for developing nations in 2003 is at the same level the rate was for the developed world fifty years ago. The trend continues downward. This is not to say that every nation, or every region within a nation, or every subgroup within in a nation, have prospered equally well. As with life expectancy, note the tragic impact of the AIDS epidemic and social has had on sub-Saharan Africa by looking at this of infant mortality from wikipedia:
During the 1990s there was a small increase in the rate for the former Soviet nations but that trend has turned positive again. There are disparities between Anglos and non-Anglos in the United States. Disparities exist, but only about a dozen (mostly small) African nations have infant mortality rates above 100. The great majority of the total world population lives in nations with far lower rates including India (34.6) and China (22.1).
Using infant mortality as measures of prosperity, the world is far more prosperous than it has ever been and the gap is narrowing between the top and bottom rungs of the global social ladder. Again, most of this change has occurred over a time when the total world population grew sixfold, from less than 1 billion in 1800 to about 6.6 billion today!
So as we look at the trajectory of change in the world we find unprecedented rises in prosperity. It is uneven growth but the every corner of the planet has improved and the gap between top and bottom nations is closing.
Next we we will look at economic issues.