For thousands of years, most people lived short lives plagued by hunger, disease, poverty, illiteracy, and other hardships. Even as the rise of modern technology improved conditions in many nations, millions of people worldwide still lacked economic opportunities and were forced to do without necessities like clean water, safe housing, and medication.
But in the past few decades, strong economic growth and rising incomes in a few key regions have led to massive reductions in the number of people living in extreme poverty. The most dramatic example is China, the world’s most populous country, with nearly 1.4 billion people.
In recent decades, the Communist country has been transformed from a poor, unstable nation into a global super-power—lifting more than 500 million Chinese from poverty in the process. In 1978, its leaders adopted reforms that loosened government control of the economy, encouraged people to start businesses, and opened the country to foreign investment. That led to millions of new jobs, mostly in construction and manufacturing. As China’s rural poor began moving in huge numbers to cities—where job opportunities are greater—they earned higher wages and had access to better schools and hospitals. Today, 4 percent of China’s population lives in extreme poverty, down from 61 percent in 1990.
India, the world’s second-most populous country, with 1.3 billion people, has undergone a similar transformation. In 1991, its government began making many of the same changes as China’s, including encouraging international companies to do business there. The nation’s economy took off, and, since 1993, its rate of extreme poverty has dropped by 25 percent.