The distribution of wealth across the globe is anything but even. North America is home to just 4.9% of the world’s population — and 26.5% of its wealth. Meanwhile, South Asia is home to 23.7% of the global population but owns just 3.6% of global wealth.
While gross domestic product provides an accurate picture of the size of a nation’s economy, gross national income, or GNI, is a more precise measure of citizens’ financial well-being, especially when considering GNI per capita. GNI includes GDP as well as the net income of the country’s residents obtained outside the country’s borders. In the United States, the annual GNI per capita of $53,245 is at least 21 times the GNI per capita in each of the world’s 25 poorest countries. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the poorest country in the world, GNI per capita is only $680 a year.
Economic development on a national scale often follows a similar pattern. Poor, developing countries are often largely rural and heavily dependent on agriculture, which is often comprised primarily of subsistence farming. Meanwhile, wealthier nations tend to have larger urban populations and a diverse industrial composition.
A series of complex factors tend to hold back many poor economies. While many of these factors are intangible, the poorest nations in the world share many identifiable common traits.
From former French colonies in Sub-Saharan Africa to former Soviet nations in Central Asia, the vast majority of the world’s poorest countries have only recently gained independence from a larger power. Political turmoil, violence, and civil war are all detrimental to economic growth and are often seemingly inevitable in newly autonomous states.
For example, Tajikistan gained its independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Almost immediately afterwards, the country descended into a five-year civil war. Most notably perhaps, nearly every African country on this list gained independence from European powers in the latter half of the last century. Many, including Mali, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan are either currently embroiled in civil war or have been in the last decade.
An educated populace and reliable infrastructure are preconditions for economic prosperity. Not surprisingly, they are often conspicuously lacking in the world’s poorest countries. In 17 of the 25 poorest countries, more than a third of the adult population is illiterate. Further stymieing any potential economic growth, less than half the population has access to electricity in 21 of the 25 poorest countries.
With severely limited financial resources, many poor countries also often lack an adequate number of doctors and modern health care systems. Partially as a result, life expectancy is far lower than it is in wealthier nations. In all of the 25 poorest countries, average life expectancy never exceeds 70 years. In the Central African nation of Chad, life expectancy at birth is only 51.6 years. U.S. life expectancy, in contrast, is 78.9 years.
Notably, 23 of the 25 poorest countries are African. In addition to all of the aforementioned drags, African nations face a host of unique hurdles to economic development. Many of the poorest countries located in West Africa have suffered from a decline in tourism following the 2014 Ebola outbreak. In addition, much of the continent is subject to severe drought and flooding, which can have crippling effects on the predominantly agricultural economies. Most notably perhaps is the toll HIV/AIDS is taking on the continent. An estimated 25.6 million people in 2015 live HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa.
To identify the world’s poorest countries, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed GNI data from the World Bank. We ranked the 25 poorest countries based on GNI per capita and supplemented our analysis with GDP and GDP growth rates from the International Monetary Fund, as well as poverty and unemployment rates, life expectancy, literacy, Gini coefficients, educational enrollment, agricultural employment, export and import figures from the World Bank, and additional trade data from MIT’s Observatory of Economic Complexity for 2014. In our analysis, we also included Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index score, which ranks countries based on perceived corruption.
These are the 25 poorest countries.