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All Progress Is Local

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted – and even reversed – progress on improving living standards globally, but it did not extinguish the potential for further gains. With a more granular understanding of how past progress unfolded, we can put ourselves on a path toward fulfilling that potential – and even chart a more efficient course.

SYDNEY – Until the COVID-19 pandemic, humanity was making great strides in extending lives and increasing economic prosperity. It is critical that we return to that trajectory as the global economy recovers. New research, which examines progress at a granular level, can help us get there.

Typically, human progress is assessed at a country level. On average, the 178 countries where data are readily available have an area of 700,000 square kilometers (about 270,000 square miles), populations of some 40 million people, and produce around $700 billion in GDP. But there obviously are vast differences across and within countries, and the effectiveness of efforts to enhance economic prosperity and human well-being depends on understanding these differences.

That is why our new report, Pixels of Progress: A Granular Look at Human Development Around the World, paints a picture that is 230 times more detailed than a country-level perspective. Using night-time luminosity and other cutting-edge techniques to gather and analyze data, we examine population patterns, economic performance, and changes in life expectancy from 2000 to 2019 across more than 40,000 microregions, each averaging 3,000 square kilometers in area, 180,000 people, and $3 billion in GDP.