If you’re ever feeling pessimistic about the course of history, check out Our World in Data, a blog run by Max Roser. Roser has accumulated lots of data that show how things are generally getting better for people around the world.
The chart above shows life expectancy at birth in different countries around the world between 1540 and 2011. You can see that life expectancy started to climb in many Western countries and Japan around the 1900s.
Other countries followed in the second half of the 20th Century. China’s life expectancy soared from only around 30 years in 1960 (in part due to the huge famine during the Great Leap Forward) to more than 60 years a decade later. India’s progress has been more gradual, though life expectancy there has also climbed from about 24 years in 1910 to 65 years in 2011. The most recent success story is Bangladesh, which has seen its life expectancy rise from 48 years in 1980 to 70 years in 2011.
Roser compiled the data from several sources. Some comes from the World Health Organization, the Clio Infra project, and papers by Wrigley and Schofield (1981) and Floud, Fogel, Harris and Hong (2011). You can see an interactive version of the chart here.