I don’t like using terms such as fortunate. It implies that luck is a genuine influence on a person’s outcomes in life, whether that be positive or negative. Luck, good or bad, does not exist. However, if life were a lottery then every single individual who has been born in the twentieth century or later has hit the first division jackpot. Those who were born in a western nation during the same period hit the Powerball multiple times, yet so many people aren’t just ignorant of their ‘good fortune,’ they’re bitter, pathetic, resentful and ungrateful.

What are the chances of being born in modern times, or even better, being born in a western country in modern times? That is an astronomically difficult probability to determine. Especially for an uneducated high school dropout who failed in the supermarket industry such as myself, but I’m going to give it a go.

Let us start by reviewing the number of people who have ever been born on earth. Of course, this is going to be highly theoretical and I am indebted to scientists who are willing to put their reputations on the line. If I make a guess and it is wrong by several country miles, nobody is going to care except for a few dozen sad accounts on Twitter.

Toshida Kaneda, Technical Director of Demographic Research for the Population Reference Bureau is a doctor of sociology. Carl Haub is a Demographer Emeritus for the Population Reference Bureau. They’ve invested years of their life and their personal reputations drawing conclusions from tedious research, while all I have to do is google their conclusions to appear relatively intelligent.

In 1995, the PRB believed Homo Sapiens (the species of mammal you and I are) could be traced back to 50,000 years prior to the alleged birth of Jesus Christ. However, there have been multiple discoveries since that time that indicate this species is four times older than the original estimates.

Before I begin flailing attempts at telling you how ‘fortunate’ you are to be who you are, where you are and when you are, take a few moments to meditate, breathe in and out slowly, deeply, selfishly, like all the air on the earth is yours alone and contemplate the exponential growth in the knowledge you have had the privilege of witnessing within the lifespan of an adolescent. Then if you still resent other identity groups and generations, then slap yourself in the face repeatedly.

The Population Reference Bureau, based on scientific research and hypothesis since 1995, now places the origin of humanity at approximately 200,000 times before the alleged birth of Jesus Christ. I’d prefer to say 202,000 years ago but Christianity won the chronology of history somewhere between the upside-down crucifixion of Paul and the fall of the Roman Empire and for the sake of simplicity I’m going to concede that argument. I’ll get my own back in a later chapter.

117 billion is now the estimate of the number of homo sapiens ever alive in the previous 200,000 years. Demographic modelling, is part guesswork and part social science. Demography has only been a conceptual reality for approximately 2020 years and a significant proportion of that time is sketchy at best. Remember the chronology of humanity is based upon the birth of the apparent son of God and his most devoted followers believe the Earth was created by God 4,000 years prior to Jesus’ birth.

The number of people who had been born by 1950, which I would consider to be the beginning of the modern age post the horrors of the Second World War, is estimated to be 107.9 billion. The estimate of total people born by 2020 was 116.8 billion. Therefore your chances of being born between 1950 and 2020 is 8%. However, the percentage of those 8% born into the wealthy western world is far, far smaller.

This is where it gets extremely complicated because some countries which were starving communist nightmares in the 1950s are now economic superpowers in their own right, such as China. Therefore, for the sake of simplicity, I believe it is most practical to review the global population at the beginning of each decade since 1950 and then take the proportion of people living in extreme poverty (the equivalent of $US1.90 per day).

1950 2.52 1.60 0.92 63.50% 0.77%
1960 3.03 1.60 1.39 54.70% 1.20%
1970 3.69 1.77 1.92 47.83% 1.64%
1980 4.44 1.92 2.52 43.24% 2.15%
1990 5.31 1.90 3.41 35.78% 2.91%
1999 6.05 1.73 4.32 28.60% 3.69%
2005 6.52 1.35 5.17 20.71% 4.42%
2010 6.93 1.09 5.84 15.73% 4.99%
2015 7.35 0.73 6.62 9.93% 5.65%

At this stage it would appear just 5.65% of all people who have ever lived in human history have a standard of living above extreme poverty and they are alive in 2015. However, not being in extreme poverty isn’t the same as being wealthy. Living on $US2 a day isn’t a champagne lifestyle (a bottle of Moet bought from the official company’s website would take 21 days to purchase).

In the previous forty years, the world has become so prosperous that it is possible to also determine that prosperity by the number of people living on more than $US10 per day.

1985 4.84 3.62 1.19 24.59% 0.77%
1990 5.28 3.99 1.29 24.43% 1.10%
1995 5.71 4.40 1.31 22.94% 1.12%
2000 6.11 4.70 1.41 23.08% 1.21%
2005 6.51 4.82 1.69 25.96% 1.44%
2010 6.92 4.81 2.11 30.49% 1.80%
2015 7.34 4.74 2.6 35.42% 2.22%
2017 7.51 4.68 2.83 37.68% 2.42%

Just 2.22% of all people that have ever lived were alive in 2015 and lived on an income of more than $US10 per day. So, the odds of you being alive in this modern world and living on more than $US10 per day are approximately 1 in 43; a bit worse than the odds of winning 4 free lines on a lotto ticket in New Zealand. Still, even $10US a day is far less than what a New Zealander on an unemployment benefit receives ($US25.20 as of 2021) and the recipients of that largess sum still complain it is too little.

In the United States of America, 310 million out of 320 million people earned at least $US10 per day. The odds of being alive in the United States in 2015 and earning over $US10 per day, out of the 117 billion people that have ever lived is infantismal. Just 0.27% of all humanity or 1 in 370. That is similar to the odds of winning $22 in the New Zealand lottery.

If you are from New Zealand it isa country of approximately 5.1 million people in which virtually everyone lives on at least $US10 a day. Being alive in 2015 in New Zealand, out of all the people who have ever lived in the history of humanity, makes you one of just 0.004%. The odds of that happening are 1 in 23,256 (winning $57 on Lotto four times).

However, I haven’t yet concluded pointing out just how lucky you are to be alive in the modern age (2015 are the most recent consistent figures available.). Those figures are taken from the total number of people ever born and therefore the assumption is that you have actually been born at all. The actual chance of ever existing, nevermind living in a wealthy nation in modern times, is an entirely different ball game.

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