Global Issues TEDTalks

11 stats that suggest our world may not be as globalized as we think

Posted by: Kate Torgovnick May

Pankaj Ghemawat coined a new phrase in his talk from TEDGlobal: “globaloney.”

In other words, Ghemawat takes issue with the idea that national borders are eroding and that we are all just living in “one world.” It’s a notion Ghemawat says was first floated in the 1850s by David Livingston, the Scottish explorer who traveled the Nile, and that persists strongly through today. And yet, says Ghemawat, data shows that it isn’t necessarily true.

“I’m going to suggest that globaloney can be very harmful to your health,” says Ghemawat, the author of Global 3.0: Global Prosperity and How to Achieve It, in his talk. “If we thought we were already there, there’d be no particular point to pushing harder … Being accurate about how limited globalization levels are is critical to being able to notice that there might be room for something more that would contribute further to global welfare.”

Here are 11 stats that suggest our world is semi-globalized, as opposed to fully globalized.

  • Of all the telephone-calling minutes placed in the world last year, only 2% were cross-border calls. As Ghemawat shares in his talk, if you add in calls made online, the percentage boosts up to 6% or 7%. Still, when 400 readers of the Harvard Business Review were asked to guess the percentage in 2011, they estimated a much higher 30%. [HBR Blog]
  • When it comes to online news, the average person does just 1% to 2% of their reading on foreign news sites, says Ghemawat. [Knowledge@Wharton]
  • Even on Facebook, we aren’t as global as we think, says Ghemawat in his talk. Typically, between 10 to 15% of your Facebook friends are from another country than the one in which you live. It’s not a negligible amount, but still not as high as one would expect. Robin Dunbar’s TEDxObserver talk contains many more stats like this. Watch it now >>
  • Most of us also assume that there is significant movement between countries, given that immigration is such a hot-button issue. But as Ghemawat shares in his talk, just 3% of the world’s population are first-generation immigrants. Harvard Business Review readers estimated the percentage at over 20%. [HBR Blog]
  • Globalization seems to be truly at work in education, with international students a presence on many campuses. But, says Ghemawat, only 2% of university students are studying in countries where they are not citizens. [Knowledge@Wharton]
  • As the saying goes, “investment knows no boundaries.” But of all the investments made in the world in 2010, not quite 10% were direct foreign investments. Again, Harvard Business Review readers greatly overestimated the percentage at a touch over 30%. [HBR Blog]
  • While official statistics show that the export-to-GDP (gross domestic product) ratio is about 30%, Ghemawat says that this stat double-counts and triple-counts some goods that contain parts that traveled between countries. Ghemawat consulted with Pascal Lamy, director of the World Trade Organization, who estimates that the real figure would be just under 20%. [HBR Blog]
  • In France, where tensions run high over immigration, people guesstimate that immigrants make up 24% of the population. But the real figure is actually 8%, says Ghemawat in his talk. He believes that knowing the real breakdown might help ease a lot of fears.
  • Meanwhile, Americans greatly overestimate the percent of the federal budget that is devoted to foreign aid. In a study published last year, the median estimate was 25% percent, with survey respondents saying that 10% would be an “appropriate” amount. However, in reality, just 1% of the U.S. federal budget goes to foreign aid. []
  • In fact, while people estimate that their countries give large amounts of aid to the poor in other nations, a survey by Branko Milanović of the World Bank finds that the ratio of aid given per domestic poor person, when compared to aid given per foreign poor person, is 30,000 to 1. [HBR Blog, MPRA]
  • Ghemawat says that people may even overestimate the effects of globalization on the environment. While people estimate that international shipping and air transport account for 20% of all energy-related CO2 emissions, he says many would be surprised to find that international shipping accounts for 2% to 3% of emissions, while air freight accounts for just 1% to 2%. []

While these stats are fascinating, Ghemawat admits that the data on this topic is limited.

He says, “I would urge you to go away and look for your own data to try and actually assess whether some of these hand-me-down insights that we’ve been bombarded with actually are correct.”

Read more on Ghemawat’s blog.

Comments (8)

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  • commented on Oct 23 2012

    Reblogged this on WEB 2.0 Essentials and commented:
    Very good post on the TEB Blog dealing with globalization. In the “WEB 2.0 Essentials” class, we show you how to use data found on the internet, work collaboratively with people anywhere in the globe, break down the boundaries associated with tradition education and work. It is a must-take class for anyone that works in diverse teams.

  • Dirk De Schepper commented on Oct 23 2012

    ” if you add in calls made online, the percentage boosts up to 6% or 7%.”

    This doesn’t mean all that much in terms of globalisation. Globalisation is ill-defined, but surely it doesn’t mean that you are as likely to have close contacts 1000 miles away as 100 or even 10 miles away. A useful reference point would be how many calls in the US are across state boundaries. The US is home to the most mobile population on the planet, so interstate calls within the US would offer a ceiling. I would be very surprised if 30% of calls in the US would cross state boundaries. Heck, I’ld be surprised if it was 15%.

    Much the same goes for the immigration issue. That “(j)ust 3% of the world’s population are first-generation immigrants” should come as no surprise. According to the Economist (, less than 3% of Americans live outside the state they were born in.

    I conclude that readers of the Harvard Business Review are – statistically speaking – less than knowledgeable about the world they inhabit.

    “only 2% of university students are studying in countries where they are not citizens”.

    Yet the same mistake, doubled up with the fact that university tends to cost more for non-citizens, language fluency is often demanded (and in any case necessary) and foreign high school diplomas may not be recognized at all. Again you can reference the US to see what full integration might mean here, and you find that less than 14% of students at public universities are from out of state. This is in a country where it is easy to get cross-state financing, and where your high school diploma is recognized everywhere. Add in language barriers, and I’m stunned that the number of out-of-country students is already 2%.

    So while I wholeheartedly agree with the speaker that facts on globalisation are often lost under a pile of rhetoric and emotions, I would also say that he forgets that statistics without context are meaningless.

  • shawn disney commented on Oct 23 2012

    The real point about Globalization is not how much international gossip there is, but the behind the scenes Financial Cartelization that is developing, beyond National controls, to the point where small Internationally minded cliques can almost demolish the world economy without very much interference from anyone.

  • shawn disney commented on Oct 23 2012

    Most amusing that Mr. G. thinks that French citizens would be REASSURED to find out that only 8% of their citizens are immigrants, instead of their imagined percentage of 24%. The French have a deserved reputation for Logic. Would they not instead say to themselves “if 8% is intolerable, what in the world would 24% REALLY be like?!”