by Peter Franklin
Thursday, 5
December 2019
Seen Elsewhere
08:41

Who is the world’s most typical person?

Cebu City

That’s the fascinating question that Tyler Cowen asks in a brilliant piece for Bloomberg. And this is his answer:

“I… nominate a 30-year-old Cebu mother as the epicenter of human existence.”

Cebu City is a community of about a million people in the central Philippines. It’s not a familiar name in the West, but then the West is highly atypical of humanity.

Much more representative are places like Cebu — one of hundreds of rapidly growing cities in the increasingly urbanised developing world:

” … the most typical place should have an income not too far from the world’s median. According to Gallup, world median household income was almost $10,000 in 2013 (though it is by now somewhat higher). The average family income in the Philippines is about $5,340 at current exchange rates, but as a major city Cebu is richer, and at any rate life is especially cheap in the Philippines.

“The world’s most typical place also should have a fairly high degree of income inequality, and Cebu does. There are gleaming shopping malls and skyscrapers, but also considerable poverty.”

- Tyler Cowen

The city is getting richer thanks to new industries like business outsourcing — helped by the fact that English is widely spoken.

The Philippines is a good choice of country because while it’s in the most populous global region (see this map), it’s a predominantly Christian country — and Christianity is still the world biggest religion. One could argue that China would be a better choice as the world’s most populous nation — but politically the People’s Republic is atypical. The Philippines, as an imperfect democracy, is more representative.

On an individual level, a thirty-year-old woman is pretty good choice too — because that corresponds to the world’s average age. There are roughly equal number of men and women, but as almost everybody is firmly one or the other, Cowen was right not to average that one out.

I wonder who the most typical human being will be by the end of the century? Looking at the demographic projections we probably need a change of Continent from Asia to Africa. Nigeria is the most populous African country, and by 2100 could have close to a billion people. Our end-of-the-century most typical human might be a Christian or a Muslim, but is almost certainly religious. He or she might live in the Nigerian equivalent of Cebu City (i.e. somewhere that isn’t very big now, but which will be in decades to come). Alternatively, it may be Lagos, which is all set to become the world’s biggest mega-city.

As for age, growing countries are typically young countries — but don’t forget that the key driver of global population growth is now people living longer, not having more babies.

So, that’s my guess for the most typical human in 80 years time. Of course, it might be a cyborg living on Mars, but I doubt it.

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