American Billions are different to British Billions: so the human race is 1000x smaller than I thought

944billion.jpg

Just a little Tuesday maths.

I remember being taught, back when I was in Primary 6, that a billion was equivalent to a million millions.

1 million = 1,000,000,000,000 or 1012

It’s not surprising that that’s what Mrs Marshall taught me because it was a British school and that’s how much a British billion is.

What I didn’t know at all is that Americans have a different value for a billion and that all media outlets (British or American) use the American value rather than the British one. An American billion is a thousand millions, or 109. It is a thousand times smaller than a British billion.

That’s why I was rather surprised last week when Facebook’s 500 million users were proclaimed to be half a billion.

I was like woah, no way, it’s more like 0.5% of a billion.But no, everyone was just using American billions like they always do. That meant it was 50% of a billion.

British billion = 1,000,000,000,000

American billion = 1,000,000,000

And when they say that there 6 billion people in the world, that means there are
6,000,000,000 people not 6,000,000,000,000. Quite a big difference when you think about it.

You know, I actually think quite a few Brits might be labouring under this delusion. Consquently things like national debt seem a lot bigger than they are. And hey I’m still really surprised to discover that there are 1000x fewer people in the world than I thought there were.. (6 billion). Of course the answer is clearly online if you google it, I didn’t realise that I should..

I reckon the UK Treasury could solve a few of their budgetary issues by subtly changing the “billion” they use in official press releases. By slipping in a few British billions, they could make national debt seem a lot smaller and hospital waiting lists too. Just a thought…


Anna Leach

7 comments

  • Quantification and multiples are common things. These are extravagant and developmental. Thank you for the thoughtful post.

  • In Norway it is like this:
    Million = 1 000 000
    Milliard= 1 000 000 000
    Billion = 1 000 000 000 000
    Billiard= 1 000 000 000 000 000
    Trillion
    Trilliard
    etc..
    etc..

  • If I were you, I would be incredibly disappointed in myself for having made this mistake for so long.

  • One British billion = one trillion

    American billion = 1,000,000,000
    American trillion = 1,000,000,000,000
    British billion = 1,000,000,000,000

  • The British billion is as dead as a doornail, and has been for decades. Your teacher was fighting a futile rearguard action at the expense of your education.

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