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A Visual Guide to Global Trends

The Human Condition

Disparities in Living Standards Persist

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What is well-being? It's a critical concept that is difficult to define or measure. Most of us know what makes us happy—whether material goods, family and friends, meaningful work, or something else—but many factors comprise our overall quality of life.

Researchers take varied approaches to quantifying quality of life, from simple calculations of money earned and food consumed to more subjective surveys. Many studies though find that human happiness depends on three key elements: good health, access to education, and relative wealth.

Insofar as wealth influences quality of life, there is one overarching global trend: The gap between rich and poor is growing. Consider that in the United States, the richest 20 percent of the population has grown more than 50 percent wealthier than society as a whole since the 1960s. In Asia, as economies have surged, millions are becoming wealthy, but hundreds of millions more remain in poverty. And perhaps most strikingly, in 2007, the two richest people in the world had more money than the combined GDP of the 45 poorest countries.

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