How the World Changed in 2014

From industrial robots to wheat production to female billionaires, the statistics that lurked behind the scenes this year


This year shattered records from the number of billionaires to the number of refugees. It also happened to be the warmest year recorded and featured the highest-ever levels of wheat production and sales of industrial robots. The statistics below show how the world changed this year, in ways both big and small.

100-2oo percent: Increase in the number of coups since 2013. This year, the governments of Thailand and Burkina Faso were toppled by their militaries. In Ukraine, meanwhile, a popular uprising and a parliamentary vote ejected then-President Viktor Yanukovych. There is some debate over whether the events in Kiev technically count as a coup as Yankovych has claimed, but according to academic definitions, wrote coup expert Jay Ulfelder, “pedantically, Yanukovych is correct.” In any case, while coups are exceedingly rare worldwide, 2014's number represents a jump from the one successful coup, Egypt’s, last year.

12.5 percent: Decline in the membership of what used to be the Group of 8 leading industrialized democracies—the group's largest and only decline ever. After Russia was kicked out of the exclusive club following its March annexation of Crimea, the G8 became the G7. Russia had been the last member to join the exclusive club and the first to go; the group is now back to its 1998 membership.

19 percent: Increase in the number of billionaires around the world in 2014, according to Forbes’s annual billionaires’ list. As of March this year, there were 1,645 billionaires on the planet, including 268 new ones, the biggest annual increase since Forbes started counting in 1987. The year saw about a 25-percent increase in the number of female billionaires, the highest ever, though with 172 female billionaires, women still make up only about 10 percent of the total list.

55 percent: Proportion of countries studied in Freedom House’s “Freedom on the Net 2014” study that experienced a decline in Internet freedom in 2014. It’s not that 2014 was uniquely bad—Freedom House has measured declines in four of the five years it’s been doing the report. But among the 65 countries examined in the report this year, more than half saw the passage or proposal of new legal restrictions on online expression. “As a result,” the report’s authors wrote, in 2014 “more people are being arrested for their internet activity than ever before.”

17 percent: Increase in Afghanistan’s opium-production potential since 2013. This year, Afghanistan broke its previous record for poppy production—which it set only last year. The country’s poppy industry has grown in each of the past three years; the UN now estimates that the country can produce 6,400 tons worth of opium, a production surge of 40 percent since its Taliban-era peak of 4,565 tons in 1999.

15 percent: Expected increase in industrial robot installations worldwide since last year. This year’s on track to break 2013’s record of the highest number of industrial robots ever sold, in part due to increasing automation in manufacturing. China leads the world in industrial robot purchases. Note, as Merriam-Webster’s Concise Encyclopedia does, that “industrial robots do not resemble human beings; a robot in human form is called an android."

1.2 percent: Margin by which the size of China’s economy will surpass that of the U.S. for the first time in 2014, according to one International Monetary Fund projection. The IMF was measuring each country’s GDP at purchasing power parity, which, as Bloomberg defined it, “uses exchange rates that adjust for price differences of the same goods between nations.” By other measures, the U.S. will lead the pack of the world’s economies for perhaps another decade.

0.6 percent: Increase in wheat production worldwide since last year. This year’s crop will put wheat output “at its highest level ever,” according to the International Grains Council. Meanwhile, though, Russia, one of the world’s main wheat suppliers, has restricted exports as its declining currency drives up domestic prices for food and other goods.

1.22°F: Average number of degrees by which the global temperature exceeded the 20th-century average. That makes 2014 to date the warmest period since scientists started keeping track, breaking by 0.02°F the previous record, set in 2010.

40 percent: Decline in the price of a barrel of oil from its 2014 peak this summer. Oil prices are now at their lowest levels in five and a half years due to slowing global demand and expanded alternative energy supplies. The Financial Times has called the price decline “by far the biggest shock for the global economy this year,” noting that its effects could “throw sand into the works of the usual economic relationships.”