Only six percent of Americans think the world is getting better

What explains the gloom in the Western world and other developed countries? Dr. Roser offered two major reasons.

First, people don’t remember how bad things used to be. The “good ole days,” as it turns out, weren’t quite as good as your (grand)parents remember them. For example, before 1900, the average woman in the U.S. lost one child before he or she turned five years old. Today, childhood mortality is the exception rather than the rule. Similarly, in 1900, the top three causes of death were due to infectious disease. But, because of advances in public health (such as vaccines and hygiene), the top three causes of death today are due to genetics, lifestyle, and old age.

Second, people are unaware of the progress being made now. Despite what some politicians may say, global income inequality has been falling. (Yes, inequality is increasing in developed countries, such as the United States, but inequality is decreasing in the world as a whole.) Perhaps worse, the media continues to adhere to the cliché “if it bleeds, it leads.” Bad news is always reported — from car bombs and homicides to financial scams and drops in the stock market — while good news is given scant coverage, if it’s even covered at all.

The fact is that bad news sells. Good news does not.