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The World’s Poorest Are More Likely to Have a Cellphone Than a Toilet

A child stands on a drainage ditch in a slum in the city of Beira on September 28, 2015 in Beira, Mozambique. Thomas Trutschel—Photothek via Getty Images

Peter Thiel summarized the technological frustration of the rich world in saying “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.”

The developing world, however, could easily replace the wish for flying cars with the simple hope for indoor plumbing.

According to a recent report from the World Bank, “The poorest households are more likely to have access to mobile phones than to toilets or clean water,” underscoring the fact that rapid technological development around the world hasn’t necessarily translated to higher living standards for most people.

The report isn’t all doom and gloom however. It argues that technologies like the digital currency MPeso has drastically reduced the cost of remitting money for the world’s poorest while, “new technologies allow women to participate more easily in the labor market—as e-commerce entrepreneurs, in online work, or in business-process outsourcing.”


That said, despite the fact that 7 out of 10 of the world’s poorest 20% have a cellphone, basic measures of progress—like economic inequality levels or the share governments with free and fair elections—have not shown any progress.