Money, it does not seem, buy happiness, at least country by country. The advancement of a nation is often confused with economic growth. However, while economic strength is certainly a country’s means of development, is it what ultimately determines how developed that country is? According to the United Nations’ Human Development Index (HDI), other factors such as human freedom should be the key in quantifying and evaluating development.
Based on the 2015 HDI, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the most and least livable countries. Data from the Index is based on three dimensions of human progress: longevity, education, and financial stability. As was the case last year, Norway is the most livable country in the world..
A good income can have a tremendous impact on standard of living. Healthy food, access to exercise facilities, insurance, and the education necessary to increase one’s position in life all have monetary costs. The U.N. used gross national income in its calculation of the HDI to reflect the standard of living in a country. In the most developed countries, gross income per capita is generally quite high. All of the world’s 5 most livable countries have among the top 30 gross national incomes per person. The top rated country, Norway, has the world’s sixth highest gross national income per capita of $63,909
In the countries at the top of the HDI, large shares of the labor force are employed in relatively high-paying service sector jobs. And, in the countries at the top of the HDI, large shares of the labor force are employed in relatively high-paying service sector jobs.
Education is not only the basis of economic prosperity, but also a key feature of personal fulfillment. Compared to emerging nations and other countries at the bottom of the HDI’s ranking, residents of the most livable countries tend to spend many more years in school. Germans, Brits, and Canadians spend around 13 years getting an education, on average, the most years of any countries in the world.
Life expectancies, another factor considered in the Human Development Index, are also far higher in advanced economies. Japan, Singapore, and Switzerland, for example, each report life expectancies at birth of at least 83 years. By this metric, the United States is a relative laggard. The mean life expectancy at birth in the United States of 79.1 years is ranked just 36th worldwide. Individuals born in the U.S. are still expected to live as many as two decades longer than babies born in many of the Sub-Saharan African nations at the other end of the HDI.
To identify the most livable countries in the world, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed social and economic data covering 188 countries. All data was provided in the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index, a report released annually for the past 25 years. Life expectancy at birth is provided by the UN Population Division in the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA); mean years of schooling are based on UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) educational attainment data and, for some countries, Barro and Lee (2013) methodology where UIS data are not available; expected years of schooling is provided by UIS; and GNI per capita (in 2011 $PPP) by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. For several countries, mean years of schooling is estimated from nationally representative household surveys and for some countries GNI was obtained from the UN Statistical Division’s database – National Accounts Main Aggregates Database.
These are the five best countries to live in.
> Population: 16.8 million
> GNI per capita: $45,435
> Life expectancy at birth: 81.6 years
> Pct. of pop. with at least some high school: 89.0%
The Netherlands, like many other Western European nations, has a high life expectancy and a strong education system. The Netherlands spends 12.9% of its $755.3 billion GDP on public health, a higher share than any country other than the United States. Partially as a result, Dutch citizens have remarkably good health outcomes. The Netherlands’ infant mortality rate of 3.3 deaths per 1,000 newborns is almost half of the infant mortality rate across OECD nations. Similarly, the country’s 81.6 year life expectancy at birth is among the highest worldwide.
A higher share of Dutch children are enrolled in secondary school than in all but two other countries. If current enrollment patterns continue, a Dutch child can expect to receive about 18 years of schooling, the seventh highest of any nation.
> Population: 5.6 million
> GNI per capita: $44,025
> Life expectancy at birth: 80.2 years
> Pct. of pop. with at least some high school: 96.1%
High public spending on education helps Danish citizens enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world. Denmark spends 8.8% of its $235.7 billion GDP on public education, compared to the average OECD expenditure 5.1%. Partially as a result, Denmark has a higher share of students enrolled in secondary school than in all but three other countries. If current enrollment patterns continue, Dutch children can expect to receive 18.7 years of education, a longer period than in all but three other countries.
Compared to most advanced economies, Denmark is relatively safe. There is less than one homicide per 100,000 Danes, much less than the 4 murders per 100,000 persons across all OECD nations.
> Population: 8.2 million
> GNI per capita: $56,431
> Life expectancy at birth: 83.0 years
> Pct. of pop. with at least some high school: 95.7%
Switzerland is home to one of the healthiest populations in the world. Life expectancy at birth in the nation is 83 years, higher than in all but three other countries. A long life expectancy may be attributable to higher than average investment in public health. Switzerland spends 11.5% of its total GDP on public health, one of the largest shares in the world. Switzerland is also a relatively safe country. With roughly 0.6 homicides for every 100,000 residents, the country’s murder rate is one of the lowest of countries reviewed.
Along with health and safety, the Swiss also do well by several education-related measures. The country’s schools are proving effective as Swiss students rank seventh in the world in mathematics. They also rank among the 20 top in reading and science.
> Population: 23.6 million
> GNI per capita: $42,261
> Life expectancy at birth: 82.4 years
> Pct. of pop. with at least some high school: 94.4%
By international standards of wealth, health, and education, Australia is the second most livable country. Australia currently has the highest share of children enrolled in secondary school of any nation. Australian children are expected to spend over two decades getting an education in their lifetimes, the highest years of expected schooling worldwide.
Relatively few adults in Australia die prematurely. Just 45 females and 78 males for every 1,000 Australians die before reaching the age of 60, much lower than the adult mortality rates of 61 females and 113 males for every 1,000 people who die prematurely across all OECD nations. At the age of 60, the average Australian can expect to live for about 25 more years, the third highest old-age life expectancy on the planet.
> Population: 5.1 million
> GNI per capita: $64,992
> Life expectancy at birth: 81.6 years
> Pct. of pop. with at least some high school: 97.1%
While each of the Scandinavian nations has historically done very well in the HDI, Norway has ranked first in each of the last five years of the report’s release. Like most other nations with a high quality of life, Norway’s population tends to be very wealthy. The country’s GNI per capita of $64,992 is among the highest in the world. It is also more than $12,000 per person higher than the U.S. GNI per capita. Like its Scandinavian neighbors, wealth and other aspects, such as employment and political power, are relatively evenly distributed throughout the population based on gender. The country ranks as one of the best of countries reviewed in the HDI gender equality index.