Centre on Well-being, Inclusion, Sustainability and Equal Opportunity (WISE)
How Was Life?
Global Well-being since 1820
How was life in 1820, and how has it improved since then? What are the long-term trends
in global well-being? Views on social progress since the Industrial Revolution are
largely based on historical national accounting in the tradition of Kuznets and Maddison.
But trends in real GDP per capita may not fully reflect changes in other dimensions
of well-being such as life expectancy, education, personal security or gender inequality.
Looking at these indicators usually reveals a more equal world than the picture given
by incomes alone, but has this always been the case? The new report How Was Life?
aims to fill this gap. It presents the first systematic evidence on long-term trends
in global well-being since 1820 for 25 major countries and 8 regions in the world
covering more than 80% of the world’s population. It not only shows the data but also
discusses the underlying sources and their limitations, pays attention to country
averages and inequality, and pinpoints avenues for further research.
The How Was Life? report is the product of collaboration between the OECD, the OECD
Development Centre and the CLIO-INFRA project. It represents the culmination of work
by a group of economic historians to systematically chart long-term changes in the
dimensions of global well-being and inequality, making use of the most recent research
carried out within the discipline. The historical evidence reviewed in the report
is organised around 10 different dimensions of well-being that mirror those used by
the OECD in its well-being report How’s Life?, and draw on the best sources and expertise
currently available for historical perspectives in this field. These dimensions are:per
capita GDP, real wages, educational attainment, life expectancy, height, personal
security, political institutions, environmental quality, income inequality and gender