Special Report

The Richest and Poorest Countries

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 24.7% of its wealth. Meanwhile, the situation is nearly reversed in South Asia, where 23.7% of the global population owns just 3.3% of global wealth.

There are multiple ways to measure the wealth of a country. The most common measures are gross domestic product (GDP) and gross national income (GNI). GDP is a measure of the market value of all goods and services produced within a country. GNI includes GDP as well as the net income of the country’s residents obtained outside the country’s borders. If an entrepreneur from San Francisco owns a factory in Mexico, the factory’s profits would be included in the GNI, but not the GDP, of the United States.

GDP is a better indicator of the size of a country’s economy. As global connectivity continues to facilitate the conduct of international business, GNI becomes a more accurate measure of a country’s personal well-being.

Click here to see the 25 richest countries in the world.

Click here to see the 25 poorest countries in the world.

The origins of disparity in global wealth are complex and multifaceted. Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations was 692 pages long and only began to outline the ways in which economic development can be explained. In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Dr. John Komlos, visiting professor at Duke University said, “Development is a long term process. There are so many considerations. The Europeans were developing in the Middle Ages for a thousand years before the Industrial Revolution. A lot of it has to do with intangibles.”

Nevertheless, a few paths to prosperity are apparent. A majority of the 10 wealthiest countries have abundant reserves of oil, which they export as their primary economic activity, although this is certainly not a replicable business model. Qatar, the world’s wealthiest country, has the world’s ninth largest proven oil reserves. Through trade, oil accounts for a majority of Qatar’s economy.

Many wealthy countries, particularly in Western Europe, have balanced, diversified, and open economies. They maintain a slight trade surplus, heavily exporting and importing a variety of products to nearby countries. They also take advantage of any natural resources at their disposal.

Some wealthy countries make up for a lack of natural resources by developing highly specialized economies. In each specialized economy, government policy and guidance is important. Macao and Bermuda, both devoid of natural resources, have established themselves as top tourist destinations in their respective hemispheres. Bermuda has also nearly eliminated corporate taxes to attract international business activity. Singapore and Belgium have both used their proximities to larger economies to promote heavy trade.

Likewise, there are paths to poverty. Almost all of the world’s least wealthy countries are in sub-Saharan Africa, mired in political turmoil and violent conflict. Despite infertile land, their economies are largely based on agriculture. Many run trade deficits, exporting low-value agricultural and mineral products in exchange for costly necessities. Some poorer countries rely heavily on foreign aid, a dependence which can hinder long-term economic development.

However, this is far from the whole story. For every path to prosperity or poverty there is a counterexample. Iran has the world’s third-largest proven oil reserves, but is far from being one of the wealthiest countries. Meanwhile, South Korea was endowed with practically no natural resources, and developed an export-oriented industrial economy to become the relatively wealthy nation it is today.

Economic development is tied to the ability of institutions to enforce policy thoroughly, efficiently, and fairly. The wealthiest countries have some of the least amount of perceived corruption, while the least wealthy have the most.

While wealth is not perfectly dispensed throughout a nation, standard of living invariably fluctuates with GNI per capita. The wealthier countries tend to have lower unemployment rates, higher literacy rates, more Internet access, longer life expectancies, and less people living in poverty than the least wealthy.

To identify the richest and poorest countries, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed GNI data from the World Bank. We ranked the top 25 and bottom 25 countries based on GNI per capita, and supplemented our analysis with GDP, GDP growth, poverty and unemployment, life expectancy, literacy, Internet access, Gini coefficients, Corruptions Perceptions Scores, educational enrollment, agricultural employment, exports, imports, government spending from the World Bank, and additional trade data from MIT’s Observatory of Economic Complexity. In our analysis, we also included Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index score, which ranks countries based on internal corruption.

These are the 25 richest and poorest countries.

The Richest Countries in the World

25. France
> GNI per capita:
$39,720
> 2014 GDP: $2.8 trillion
> Population: 66,206,930
> Life expectancy: 82.0 years

With a GDP of $2.8 trillion, France has the sixth largest economy in the world. It is the leading exporter of planes, helicopters, and spacecrafts worldwide, and the industry makes up the bulk of its trade revenue. Like just five of the world’s 25 richest nations, France imports more than it exports. The country’s 66.2 million population is the 21st largest in the world, and with a GNI per capita of $39,720, it is the 25th wealthiest in the world.

Government spending accounts for 47% of France’s GDP, the fourth highest share of any country. As a result, French citizens enjoy a high standard of living. As many as 98.5% of primary school-aged children attend school, the 12th highest share worldwide. The average France resident can expect to live 82 years, also the 12th best in the world.

24. Finland
> GNI per capita:
$40,000
> 2014 GDP: $270.7 billion
> Population: 5,463,596
> Life expectancy: 80.8 years

Finland’s GNI per capita of $40,000 is the 24th highest in the world. The Nordic country’s top export is refined petroleum, which it primarily trades to Sweden. Finland is also the world’s top exporter of coated paper.

The Finnish people have some of the highest standards of living on the world. Due in part to its tuition-free higher education system, 21.1% of Finland citizens have at least a bachelor’s degree, one of the highest attainment rates worldwide. Like most wealthy European nations, Finland’s government is also among the most ethical. On Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, Finland was ranked the third least corrupt country.

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23. Ireland
> GNI per capita:
$40,820
> 2014 GDP: $245.9 billion
> Population: 4,612,719
> Life expectancy: 81.0 years

Like many of the world’s wealthiest countries, Ireland has a positive trade balance, with a trade surplus of 25%. Ireland is the world’s top exporter of nitrogen heterocyclic compounds, products of the country’s growing pharmaceutical industry.

With a GNI per capita of $40,820, Ireland’s citizens are the 23rd wealthiest in the world and enjoy a standard of life slightly better than the rest of Europe and Central Asia. Irish residents can expect to live to be 81 years old, 4.2 years longer than the average life expectancy for the rest of the region.

22. Iceland
> GNI per capita:
$42,530
> 2014 GDP: $17.1 billion
> Population: 327,589
> Life expectancy: 83.1 years

Iceland’s economy is just the 115th largest in the world, but this is largely because of its relatively small size — it is one of the world’s least populous countries. Despite this, Iceland has a GNI per capita of $42,530, the 22nd highest of any nation. The Nordic island’s top exports are aluminium, fish fillets, and other frozen fish.

The majority of Iceland’s residents live in its capital city, Reykjavik, where the standard of living is among the world’s highest. For every 100 people in Iceland, 98 have access to the Internet, the highest share of any country. Icelanders can also expect to live to be 83 years old, the fourth longest life expectancy in the world.

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21. Australia
> GNI per capita:
$42,880
> 2014 GDP: $1.5 trillion
> Population: 23,490,736
> Life expectancy: 82.2 years

Australia’s economy is the 12th largest in the world and its residents rank as the 21st wealthiest in the world. The Oceanian country supplies almost half of the world’s iron ore, three-fourths of which it trades to China. Across the country, citizens enjoy some of the best educational and health outcomes worldwide. More than one fourth of Australians have at least a bachelor’s degree, the sixth highest attainment rate in the world. The life expectancy at birth in the country is 82.2 years, the 10th longest of any country.

20. Belgium
> GNI per capita:
$43,030
> 2014 GDP: $533.4 billion
> Population: 11,225,207
> Life expectancy: 80.4 years

With a GNI of $43,030 per capita, Belgium’s roughly 11 million residents are the 20th wealthiest in the world. Due to Belgium’s central location in Western Europe, it is able to provide transportation services for the region. Exports make up 83.6% of the nation’s GDP, one of the highest such shares worldwide and an indication of the country’s trade-dependent economy. Belgium and neighboring Luxembourg have formed an economic union, and together the two countries primarily trade refined petroleum.

The Belgian government spends 44.8% of its GDP on goods and services for its people, a higher share than in all but five countries. Perhaps as a result, Belgians enjoy a fairly high standard of living. About 85.0% of the Belgian population has Internet access, close to the 87.4% of Americans who do. Likewise, Belgians can expect to live to 80 years old, slightly higher than the regional average of 77 years.

19. Canada
> GNI per capita:
$43,400
> 2014 GDP: $1786.7 billion
> Population: 35,540,419
> Life expectancy: 81.4 years

The world’s second biggest country by landmass, Canada has the world’s 11th largest economy and the 19th wealthiest residents. Canada is unique among developed countries in that a significant sector of its economy is derived from natural resources. Its top export is crude petroleum, and it is the world’s leading exporter of sawn wood.

Canadians enjoy a standard of living similar to that of United States’ residents. About 87.1% of Canadians have access to the Internet, similar to the 87.4% of Americans who do. Canada’s unemployment rate of 6.8% is slightly higher than the U.S. rate of 5.3%.

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18. Austria
> GNI per capita:
$45,040
> 2014 GDP: $436.3 billion
> Population: 8,534,492
> Life expectancy: 80.9 years

With a GNI per capita of $45,040, Austrians are some of the wealthiest people in the world. Landlocked between Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Slovakia, and Slovenia, the Western European country has a diversified economy and exports a variety of products, such as packaged medicines, vehicle parts, and cars. Austria’s closest trading partner is Germany, where it sends 27% of its exports.

Like the rest of Europe and Central Asia, the Austrian government spends 38.3% of its GDP on public goods and services — significantly more than the 23.1% the U.S. government spends. Austrians also enjoy a relatively high standard of living. For example, Austrians can expect to live to about 81 years old, versus the regional average of 77 years.

17. Denmark
> GNI per capita:
$46,160
> 2014 GDP: $342.0 billion
> Population: 5,639,565
> Life expectancy: 80.3 years

Like each of the five Nordic countries, Denmark is one of the wealthiest nations in the world. The country’s exports — a diverse blend of chemical, petroleum, machine, and animal products — makes up 53.7% of the country’s $342 billion GDP, which is the eighth largest share worldwide.

Denmark’s citizens are subject to some of the highest tax rates anywhere. Partially as a result, the Danish government spends 43.1% of its GDP on goods and services, such as grants and social benefits, on its citizens, the eighth highest share of any nation. The Danish government is also the least corrupt in world.

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16. Sweden
> GNI per capita:
$46,710
> 2014 GDP: $570.6 billion
> Population: 9,689,555
> Life expectancy: 81.7 years

With a GNI of $46,710 per capita, Sweden is the second wealthiest country in the Nordic region after Norway. Like most Nordic nations, Sweden exports more than it imports and maintains high taxes across all income brackets. Sweden has the 12th most balanced distribution of wealth worldwide, according to the Gini coefficient, a measure of income distribution. Perhaps as a result, the Swiss enjoy a high standard of living. Nearly all young children — 99.3% — are enrolled to primary school, the sixth highest enrollment rate worldwide.

15. Germany
> GNI per capita:
$46,840
> 2014 GDP: $3.9 trillion
> Population: 80,889,505
> Life expectancy: 81.0 years

With a GNI of $46,840 per capita, Germany’s 81 million citizens are among the wealthiest of any nation. Germany has the fourth largest economy in the world and is Europe’s top exporter. Home to automobile giants Volkswagen and Daimler, Germany is the world’s leading exporter of cars.

The German economy is relatively healthy with a 4.7% unemployment rate, well below the jobless rate in most other European countries. Germans also report relatively good health outcomes with a life expectancy at birth of 81 years, longer than the regional average of 77 years.

14. Netherlands
> GNI per capita:
$47,660
> 2014 GDP: $869.5 billion
> Population: 16,854,183
> Life expectancy: 81.1 years

The Dutch economy is built largely on trade, with exports accounting for 83.1% of its $869.5 billion GDP, one of the larger shares worldwide. The Netherlands primarily exports crude and refined petroleum to Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg. Despite its relatively small size and just 2.5% of its workforce employed in agriculture — in the rest of Europe and Central Asia 9.0% of the workforce is employed in agriculture — the Netherlands is the world’s second largest exporter of agricultural products.

The Netherlands spends 42.2% of its GDP — the 11th highest share worldwide — on its citizens. Perhaps as a result, the 16.9 million Dutch enjoy a high standard of living. Life expectancy, Internet access per capita, and primary school enrollment in the Netherlands are all higher than their corresponding averages for the region.

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13. Saudi Arabia
> GNI per capita:
$51,320
> 2014 GDP: $746.2 billion
> Population: 30,886,545
> Life expectancy: 75.7 years

Saudi Arabia is an oil-based economy and the world’s leading supplier of crude petroleum — the kingdom has the second most proven oil reserves in the world. Oil, which makes up 89.8% of the Middle Eastern nation’s exports, is a major reason why the country is the 13th wealthiest in the world. Many Saudi Arabians enjoy a standard of living superior to people living in the rest of the Middle East and North African region. For example, Saudi Arabians have a life expectancy of 76 years, a literacy rate of 94.4%, and 64% of people have access to the Internet. , However,these measures are lower than in many Western countries.

12. United States
> GNI per capita:
$55,860
> 2014 GDP: $17.4 trillion
> Population: 318,857,056
> Life expectancy: 78.8 years

The United States has the largest economy in the world, and the 12th wealthiest people. Despite being the second largest exporter in the world after China, and the leading exporter of refined petroleum, the United States imports more than it exports, running a trade deficit of 18%.

The American people are relatively prosperous and enjoy an excellent standard of living relative to the rest of the world. They consume more than any other country and account for more than one-fourth of all goods and services bought worldwide. Americans live to be about 79 years old on average, about eight years longer than the global life expectancy, but still lower than a number of European nations.

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11. Hong Kong SAR, China
> GNI per capita:
$56,570
> 2014 GDP: $290.9 billion
> Population: 7,241,700
> Life expectancy: 83.8 years

Hong Kong is the most trade-dependent country in the world. The value of Hong Kong’s exports is more than double its GDP, and since it imports nearly as much as it exports, the Special Administrative Region (SAR) has a nearly perfect trade balance. The bulk of Hong Kong’s export revenue comes from gold, which is bought primarily from Switzerland. Much of this gold is then traded to China. The territory’s low taxes and access to East Asian and Pacific markets attracts a great deal of foreign investment. Wealth often has a positive effect on a country’s health outcomes. Citizens of Hong Kong can expect to live for 83.8 years, for example, the longest life expectancy worldwide.

10. Luxembourg
> GNI per capita:
$57,830
> 2014 GDP: $60.1 billion
> Population: 556,074
> Life expectancy: 81.8 years

With a GNI of $57,830 per capita, Luxembourg’s population of 556,074 is the 10th wealthiest in the world. Landlocked between Belgium, Germany, and France, the Western European country is heavily trade dependent. It trades more than any other nation besides Hong Kong, exporting $122.7 billion — roughly twice its GDP — and importing $99.9 billion. Wealth often coincides with a high standard of living, and Luxembourg is no exception. The average Luxembourger lives for 81.8 years, about five years longer than the regional average, and one of the longest life expectancies in the world.

9. Switzerland
> GNI per capita:
$59,600
> 2014 GDP: $685.4 billion
> Population: 8,190,229
> Life expectancy: 82.7 years

Switzerland’s 8.2 million citizens are the ninth wealthiest in the world. The country is the world’s leading exporter of gold, which accounts for a bulk of its trade revenue. Despite its relatively small size — it is just the 96th most populous country — Switzerland’s $685.4 billion economy is one of the largest worldwide.

The Swiss people enjoy a very high standard of living. Residents have a life expectancy of 82.7 years, which is the fifth longest, and the country’s 3.4% unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the world.

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8. Norway
> GNI per capita:
$65,970
> 2014 GDP: $500.1 billion
> Population: 5,136,475
> Life expectancy: 81.5 years

Largely due to the country’s abundant natural resources, Norway is the wealthiest of the five Nordic countries and the eighth wealthiest worldwide. Norway exports far more than it imports. Extracted from the North Sea, most of Norway’s crude petroleum and petroleum gas is sold to the United Kingdom and Germany. Norway is also the world’s leading supplier of fresh fish.

Like many Nordic countries, Norway’s high taxes redistribute wealth amongst its population and many are able to enjoy a high standard of living. For every 100 Norwegians, roughly 96 have access to the Internet, the third highest proportion of any nation. According to the Gini coefficient, Norway’s income is the fourth most evenly distributed worldwide.

7. United Arab Emirates
> GNI per capita:
$66,270
> 2014 GDP: $401.6 billion
> Population: 9,086,139
> Life expectancy: 77.1 years

With a GNI of $66,270 per capita, the United Arab Emirates’ 9.1 million people are the seventh wealthiest in the world. Like a majority of the world’s 10 wealthiest countries, the United Arab Emirates is oil-rich. The UAE has the sixth largest proven crude oil reserves. Oil exports, which the country sells mostly to Japan, Thailand, South Korea, India, and Singapore — account for the bulk of its GDP.

The UAE government spends just 3.9% of its GDP on public goods and services, the lowest share of any of the wealthiest countries. Nevertheless, many of the Emirati people enjoy a higher standard of living than those across the Middle East and North African region. The literacy rate in the UAE is 90.0%, 9.7 percentage points higher than the 80.3% of people considered literate in the the region. Likewise, the average Emirati lives for 77.1 years, 4.8 years longer than the region’s 72.3 year life expectancy.

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6. Bermuda
> GNI per capita:
$66,560
> 2014 GDP: $5.6 billion
> Population: 65,181
> Life expectancy: 80.6 years

Bermuda is a tiny British island in the western Atlantic Ocean. Despite its lack of natural resources and major industry, Bermuda is the sixth wealthiest country in the world. It is also one of the smallest with just 65,181 citizens. Bermuda achieved its $66,560 GNI per capita by attracting international businesses with minimal corporate taxes, and American tourists with luxurious resorts. More than three-fourths of the country’s imports are passenger, cargo, and special purpose ships. Bermuda’s reliance on international business made it particularly vulnerable to the effects of the 2008 global financial crisis. While the rest of the world has nearly recovered from the recession, Bermuda’s GDP has declined in recent years. In 2013, Bermuda’s economy shrank by 2.5% while the world’s economy expanded by the same percentage.

5. Brunei Darussalam
> GNI per capita:
$72,190
> 2014 GDP: $17.3 billion
> Population: 417,394
> Life expectancy: 78.6 years

Brunei Darussalam is a small country on the Southeast Asian island of Borneo, which it shares with Malaysia and Indonesia. Like a majority of the world’s 10 wealthiest countries, Brunei is oil rich. Petroleum traded to Japan and South Korea accounts for almost all of the country’s exports, which make up more than three-fourths of the country’s $17.3 billion GDP. It exports 2.3 times the amount it imports, the third highest trade surplus in the world.

Brunei has made efforts to diversify its economy in the past two decades, and today it attracts a relatively high amount of foreign investment. The thriving economy grew by 5.3% last year — 2.8 percentage points ahead of the 2.5% global GDP expansion. Brunei also has one of the world’s lowest unemployment rates, at just 2.7% of Brunei’s workforce.

4. Singapore
> GNI per capita:
$80,270
> 2014 GDP: $307.9 billion
> Population: 5,469,700
> Life expectancy: 82.3 years

With a GNI of $80,270 per capita, Singapore’s 5.5 million residents are the fourth wealthiest in the world. The Asian city-state is heavily trade dependent, exporting and importing goods valued well above its GDP. Only two other countries exported more relative to GDP than Singapore. Without any natural resources, Singapore has been a major center of entrepot trade, providing duty-free storage for re-exporting. The Port of Singapore is the second busiest in the world in terms of cargo volume, and it trades a diverse blend of refined petroleum, integrated circuits, and chemicals to help make up Singapore’s $307.9 billion GDP.

Singapore has also established itself recently as one of the world’s leading hubs for wealth management. The country has the most millionaires per capita of any country. Singapore’s wealthy citizens enjoy a high standard of living. The city-state has an unemployment rate of 2.0% and a life expectancy of 82.3 years, the third lowest and eighth longest such figures worldwide.

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3. Kuwait
> GNI per capita:
$82,210
> 2014 GDP: $175.8 billion
> Population: 3,753,121
> Life expectancy: 74.5 years

Like a majority of the 10 wealthiest countries, Kuwait is oil rich. The Middle Eastern country has the fifth largest proven oil reserves worldwide. Kuwait trades its oil to a variety of countries for automobile, electric, mineral, pharmaceutical, and food products. Kuwait exports 2.7 times the amount it imports, the largest trade surplus of any nation.

Kuwait’s thriving economy has contributed to a 2.1% unemployment rate, the fourth lowest across the globe. However, Kuwaiti health outcomes are not on par with other nations in the top income bracket. The average Kuwaiti lives for 74.5 years, 90th in the world and just 2.2 years more than the 72.3 year life expectancy across the Middle East and North Africa.

2. Macao SAR, China
> GNI per capita:
$118,110
> 2014 GDP: $55.5 billion
> Population: 577,914
> Life expectancy: 80.3 years

With a GNI of $118,110, Macao’s 577,914 citizens are the second wealthiest in the world. Macao is known as the gambling capital of Asia, and tourism accounts for near half of its GDP. Despite high revenues from tourism, Macao is still heavily trade dependent, particularly with China and Hong Kong. Its top exports are jewelry and precious metal watches.

Macao’s reliance on tourism has made it vulnerable to economic fluctuations in other nations. Partially as a result of an economic slowdown in China and an anti-corruption campaign by the Chinese president, Macao’s GDP has fallen over the last five years. Last year, its GDP shrank by 0.4%, one of the only economies to shrink while the global economy grew by 2.5%.

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1. Qatar
> GNI per capita:
$139,760
> 2014 GDP: $211.8 billion
> Population: 2,172,065
> Life expectancy: 78.6 years

Qatar, with a GNI of $139,760 per capita, is the wealthiest country in the world. Like many of countries in the highest global income bracket, Qatar’s economy is founded on oil. The Middle Eastern nation has the ninth largest proven oil reserves. Oil exports make up a considerable share of Qatar’s $211.8 billion GDP. Dependence on oil and gas markets makes Qatar vulnerable to economic fluctuations, particularly the changing price of oil. Qatar’s leaders have recently attempted to assuage with economic diversification initiatives. Many Qatari people enjoy a standard of living greater than across the Middle East and North Africa, with a longer life expectancy, higher literacy rate, and more Internet access than the region.

The Poorest Countries in the World

25. South Sudan
> GNI per capita:
$2,000
> 2014 GDP: $13.1 billion
> Population: 11,911,184
> Life expectancy: 55.2 years

The most recent civil war in South Sudan came to an end in August, when President Salva Kiir signed a peace deal with rebel leader Riek Machar, who will return under the peace deal as vice-president. The country had been mired in conflict since 2013 when Kiir accused Machar of plotting a coup. Such conflict is not new to the country, which gained independence in 2011. Civil wars, factional conflict, and coups have repeatedly destabilized both the country’s politics and its economy. Violence is likely the primary reason more than half of the country’s population lives below the poverty line, and that the country has a GNI per capita of just $2,000, one of the lowest in the world. Corruption may also be major concern. South Sudan received the fifth worst Corruption Perceptions Index score in the world.

24. Afghanistan
> GNI per capita:
$1,960
> 2014 GDP: $20.8 billion
> Population: 31,627,506
> Life expectancy: 60.9 years

With a GNI per capita of $1,960, Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. The country’s literacy rate is just above 30%, and more than a third of all people live below the poverty line. Additionally, Afghans live nearly 61 years on average, 10 years less than the worldwide average life expectancy and nearly 20 years less than the average American. Poor socioeconomic indicators are primarily the result of instability. While the country has a formal U.S.-supported government, the Islamic fundamentalist group, the Taliban, commands significant influence in some regions, all but nullifying the country’s official laws. The perception of corruption is quite high in the country. Afghanistan received one of the worst corruption scores in the world.

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23. Benin
> GNI per capita:
$1,850
> 2014 GDP: $8.7 billion
> Population: 10,598,482
> Life expectancy: 59.3 years

Benin, which is located in Western Africa, is one of the best examples of a developing country struggling to compete in international markets. Together with Burkina Faso, Chad, and Mali — the so-called C-4 countries — export about 8% of the world’s cotton, a large enough share to have a significant impact on the worldwide cotton market. However, more developed countries such as the United States heavily subsidize cotton, thus increasing its production worldwide and driving global cotton prices lower. This all but ensures that cotton farmers in C-4 countries remain poor. Education may be one way Benin can escape its poverty trap. Nearly 95% of school-aged children are enrolled in primary school, nearly 20 percentage points higher than in other sub-Saharan countries.

22. Sierra Leone
> GNI per capita:
$1,800
> 2014 GDP: $4.9 billion
> Population: 6,315,627
> Life expectancy: 45.6 years

After gaining independence from Britain in 1951, Sierra Leone was hopeful its rich natural resource deposits would bring economic prosperity. Since then, however, the country has undergone 13 military coups and a decade-long civil war that heavily impeded development. Today, each resident accrues an average of $1,800 annually, and more than half of the population lives in poverty. Additionally, the country has become heavily reliant on foreign aid, receiving nearly 10% of its GDP in aid from abroad. In 2012, the country’s government drafted a 50-year development plan focusing on the long-term benefits of education and infrastructure rather than mineral exploitation.

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21. Uganda
> GNI per capita:
$1,740
> 2014 GDP: $26.3 billion
> Population: 37,782,971
> Life expectancy: 59.2 years

Uganda’s economic outlook has improved in recent years, according to the African Development Bank, which cited rising GDP growth rates and life expectancy as well as falling poverty and infant mortality rates. In fact, since 2009, Uganda’s life expectancy has increased by three years to 59.2. Despite the improvements, however, Uganda is still one of the poorest countries in the world with a GNI per capita of just $1,740, roughly half the average GNI per capita of sub-Saharan Africans.

20. Haiti
> GNI per capita:
$1,730
> 2014 GDP: $8.7 billion
> Population: 10,572,029
> Life expectancy: 63.1 years

Once the richest country in the New World, Haiti is now the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with a GNI per capita of $1,730, just 3.1% of the corresponding U.S. figure. As in many of the poorest countries, Haiti’s history has been mired in internal conflict and corrupt regimes. Additionally, a 20-year U.S. military occupation before World War II, an HIV crisis, and, most recently, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake in 2010 have all worked to impede the country’s prospects of stability and economic development. Today, nearly 60% of the country’s population lives in poverty and the literacy rate is below 60%.

19. Burkina Faso
> GNI per capita:
$1,650
> 2014 GDP: $12.5 billion
> Population: 17,589,198
> Life expectancy: 56.3 years

Meaning “land of the incorruptible peoples,” Burkina Faso scores better than the majority of African countries on the Corruption Perceptions Index. Nevertheless, the country is not free from corruption — it ranks near the 50th percentile of 175 countries. While Burkina Faso’s life expectancy of 56.3 years is in line with the regional average, just 28.7% of the country’s citizens are literate, less than half the regional rate. In addition, less than 10% of country residents have access to the Internet. This is yet another sign of low incomes in Burkina Faso, where the average resident accrues just $1,650 each year, one of the lowest GNI per capita figures worldwide.

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18. Rwanda
> GNI per capita:
$1,630
> 2014 GDP: $7.9 billion
> Population: 11,341,544
> Life expectancy: 64.0 years

Since Rwanda’s genocide in 1994, the country’s political and economic gains have been mixed. For years, Rwanda had GDP growth rates above 7%, which likely helped lift more than 1 million Rwandans, roughly 9% of the population, out of poverty and raise the country’s GNI per capita to $1,630. Still, the poverty rate remains at 44.9%.

President Paul Kagame has ruled Rwanda for the last 15 years. While dramatically improving the lives of Rwandans — by providing access to health care, offering free education, and improving infrastructure — Kagame has also gained a reputation for suppressing dissent. In October, the Rwandan Parliament voted on a measure to allow Kagame to remain in power beyond the end of his second term in 2017. Nearly 3.7 million Rwandans are believed to have signed a petition in favor of such a measure.

17. Zimbabwe
> GNI per capita:
$1,630
> 2014 GDP: $13.7 billion
> Population: 15,245,855
> Life expectancy: 59.8 years

Located in south-central Africa, more than 70% of Zimbabwe’s citizens live in poverty, the third highest poverty rate among countries reviewed. From 2009 through 2012, the country’s GDP grew at an annualized rate of 11%, largely driven by the mining and agriculture sectors. Since then, the annualized GDP growth rate has fallen to a more modest 3.2%. Despite the economic growth in recent years, Zimbabwe’s GNI per capita is just $1,630, less than half of the regional average.

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16. The Gambia
> GNI per capita:
$1,560
> 2014 GDP: $0.8 billion
> Population: 1,928,201
> Life expectancy: 58.8 years

The Gambia has been politically stable since its president, Yahya Jammeh, seized control in a bloodless coup in 1994. By contrast, many other African countries have endured political instability and widespread violence for many years. Stability in The Gambia has not led to prosperity, however. Like other single-crop countries, The Gambia relies heavily on exporting peanuts, which are subject to production and price fluctuations to a greater extent than many other commodities. As a result, the country is largely dependent on foreign aid, which totalled more than 12% of GDP in 2013, one of the higher such figures worldwide.

15. Mali
> GNI per capita:
$1,530
> 2014 GDP: $12.1 billion
> Population: 17,086,022
> Life expectancy: 55.0 years

Landlocked in sub-Saharan Africa, Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world. It is one of Africa’s largest producers of cotton, which also makes up more than half of the country’s total exports. To protect its primary source of revenue, Mali has recently lobbied against subsidies given to cotton farmers in wealthier countries such as the United States. Mali is also significantly dependent on foreign aid, which makes up 12.5% of its total GDP, one of the higher shares of any nation. Mali’s poor economy has resulted in one of the lowest standards of living worldwide. The average Malian is expected to live to just 55 years old, 23.8 years less than the life expectancy in America.

14. Eritrea
> GNI per capita:
$1,520
> 2014 GDP: $3.9 billion
> Population: 5,110,444
> Life expectancy: 62.8 years

Eritrea has been plagued with violent struggles and instability for more than 30 years. As a result, it is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a GNI per capita of $1,520. Eritrea’s government is notoriously secretive, which limits support from the United Nations. Foreign aid makes up just 2.4% of Eritrea’s GDP, the smallest share of any country in the one of the poorest parts of the world. Because of its destitute economy, Eritrea has some of the worst infrastructure on the planet. Fewer than one in 100 Eritreans have access to the Internet, one of the lowest such figures worldwide.

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13. Comoros
> GNI per capita:
$1,490
> 2014 GDP: $0.6 billion
> Population: 769,991
> Life expectancy: 60.9 years

Comoros, an archipelago east of Africa and north of Madagascar where residents speak French and Arabic, is one of the poorest countries in the world, with residents accruing an average of just $1,490 a year. As in many of the poorest countries, the Comorian economy is largely driven by subsistence agriculture and fishing. Despite gaining independence from France in 1975, the country’s economy continues to be supported by foreign aid from France, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, among others.

12. Ethiopia
> GNI per capita:
$1,490
> 2014 GDP: $54.8 billion
> Population: 96,958,732
> Life expectancy: 63.6 years

Unlike many of the world’s poorest countries, Ethiopia has been independent throughout most of its history. Nevertheless, inner turmoil and violent attempts to annex neighboring Eritrea have plagued Ethiopia with poverty, starvation, and an average expected lifespan of just 63.6 years. However, Ethiopia has one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The primarily agricultural economy grew 9.9% last year, the fourth largest GDP expansion of any country reviewed.

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11. Madagascar
> GNI per capita:
$1,400
> 2014 GDP: $10.6 billion
> Population: 23,571,713
> Life expectancy: 64.7 years

With a GNI per capita of $1,400, Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world. Home to 23.6 million people, it is estimated that 75.3% — or more than 17 million — live in poverty, the second highest poverty rate among countries reviewed. Like other countries in the region, the African island has endured numerous military coups and suffers from corruption. After the most recent coup in 2009, many international organizations cut ties with the country. However, the Malagasy government adopted a new constitution in 2010 and oversaw elections in 2014, actions that may induce foreign donors back to the country.

10. Guinea-Bissau
> GNI per capita:
$1,380
> 2014 GDP: $1.0 billion
> Population: 1,800,513
> Life expectancy: 54.3 years

With a GNI of just $1,380 per capita, Guinea-Bissau is one of the poorest country in the world. Like most of the world’s poorest nations, Guinea-Bissau’s economy is centered on agriculture. Guinea-Bissau is the seventh largest exporter of coconuts, brazil nuts, and cashews worldwide — exports that account for most of the country’s trade revenue. Also, corrupt military officials in Guinea-Bissau have helped establish the country as a major hub for cocaine smuggled from Latin America to Europe. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, Guinea-Bissau is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Its citizens are among the least healthy on the planet, with a life expectancy of just 54.3 years — slightly less than the average regional life expectancy of 56.8 years.

9. Togo
> GNI per capita:
$1,290
> 2014 GDP: $4.5 billion
> Population: 7,115,163
> Life expectancy: 56.5 years

Forced by the African Union to hold elections in 2005, Togo’s former military-appointed president, Faure Gnassingbe, won despite numerous fraud allegations. Since then, corruption has remained pervasive in the country, with Transparency International ranking the country’s perceived levels of corruption among the worst in the world. The country, however, does receive assistance from international organizations. In fact, as the only deep-water port in West Africa, international shippers ensure Togo’s coastline is largely insulated from the piracy that plagues its neighbor’s shores.

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8. Mozambique
> GNI per capita:
$1,140
> 2014 GDP: $16.4 billion
> Population: 27,216,276
> Life expectancy: 50.2 years

Despite remaining politically stable since a 1992 peace agreement transitioned Mozambique away from civil war, the country has not been able to foster widespread economic gains. According to the World Bank, nearly 55% of Mozambicans live in poverty, one of the higher poverty rates in the world. Like other African countries, low incomes in Mozambique leave it ill-equipped to effectively administer health care and prevent against mosquito-borne illnesses. Malaria is the most common cause of death, contributing to 35% of child mortality and 29% of deaths within the general population.

7. Guinea
> GNI per capita:
$1,120
> 2014 GDP: $6.6 billion
> Population: 12,275,527
> Life expectancy: 56.1 years

Located in West Africa, Guinea is home to two-thirds of the world’s bauxite reserves. It also has large iron ore, gold, and diamond deposits. Despite the prevalence of natural resources, corruption, political instability, and limited property rights have kept more than half of Guinea’s population in poverty. As in many of the poorest countries, workers are disproportionately employed in agriculture. In fact, 70% of Guinea’s population works on farms but contributes less than 20% to GDP. Subsistence agriculture may be the primary reason that Guinea’s GNI per capita is less than $1,200.

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6. Niger
> GNI per capita:
$920
> 2014 GDP: $8.2 billion
> Population: 19,113,728
> Life expectancy: 58.4 years

Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world, and nearly half of its 19.1 million people live in poverty. Niger has been afflicted by drought and political instability through much of its post-1960 independence, factors that have stymied its economic development. Niger imports nearly twice the amount it exports, and it relies on foreign aid for 10.1% of its GDP, leaving it in a poverty trap similar to most of sub-Saharan Africa. Nigeriens are subject to one of the lowest standards of living worldwide. Just 15.5% of Nigeriens can read, significantly less than the 85.2% global literacy rate.

5. Malawi
> GNI per capita:
$790
> 2014 GDP: $4.3 billion
> Population: 16,695,253
> Life expectancy: 55.2 years

Located in southeastern Africa, Malawi is the fifth poorest country in the world, with a GNI per capita of just $790 per year, less than 1.5% of the corresponding U.S. figure. Additionally, more than half of Malawians live in poverty, a figure that is likely to rise if the country’s foreign aid does not soon resume. In 2014, donors withdrew nearly $150 million in aid from Malawi’s government budget after British auditors reported that corruption had siphoned at least $30 million away from the government. Without the aid, President Peter Mutharika fears the country will go bankrupt.

4. Burundi
> GNI per capita:
$770
> 2014 GDP: $3.1 billion
> Population: 10,816,860
> Life expectancy: 54.1 years

With a GNI of just $770 per capita, Burundi is the fourth poorest country in the world. It has been the setting of a violent internal conflict since 1994 that has hindered economic development and crimped the standard of living of its people. Burundi imports more than two-thirds of what it exports and finances more than one-fifth of its GDP with foreign aid, leaving it in a poverty trap similar to the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. The 10.8 billion Burundians are expected to live to just 54 years old, and 66.9% of them live in poverty.

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3. Liberia
> GNI per capita:
$700
> 2014 GDP: $2.0 billion
> Population: 4,396,554
> Life expectancy: 60.5 years

Familiar to many as the epicenter of the 2014 Ebola crisis in West Africa, Liberia’s per capita GNI is just $700, the third lowest in the world. Perhaps as a result, more than 63% of Liberians live in poverty and just 37.7% of children are enrolled in primary school, both among the worst rates in the world. GDP growth slowed to 0.5% in 2014, but the African Development Bank expects growth to rise to 3.8% in 2015 as the commercial activity and public expenditure projects resume again now that Liberia has been declared Ebola-free.

2. Democratic Republic of the Congo
> GNI per capita:
$650
> 2014 GDP: $33.0 billion
> Population: 74,877,030
> Life expectancy: 49.9 years

Since at least the 1960s, economic development in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been impeded by oppressive leadership and constant violence. From 1965 to 1997, DRC was ruled by Joseph Mobutu, who changed the country’s name to Zaire, nationalized foreign-owned companies, and amassed a fortune of roughly $5 billion from plundering the country’s natural resources. In the late 1990s, a six-country war broke out in the DRC when Uganda and Rwanda backed rebels looking to oust then-President Laurent Kabila. Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Angola sent troops to support Kabila. By 2001, an estimated 2.5 million people died in the war.

Today, DRC is led by the former president’s son Joseph Kabila, who has proposed constitutional amendments that would extend his stay in office. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), more than 500,000 Congolese have official refugee status, and an additional 2.7 million qualify for UNHCR assistance.

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1. Central African Republic
> GNI per capita:
$600
> 2014 GDP: $1.8 billion
> Population: 4,804,316
> Life expectancy: 50.1 years

The Central African Republic (CAR) is one of the poorest country in the world with a GNI per capita of $600 and a poverty rate of 62%. Not all of the country’s residents are poor, however. CAR’s Gini coefficient, which measures how income is distributed within a country, is 0.56, the fifth least equal of all countries reviewed. Average life expectancy is just 50 years. By comparison, U.S. life expectancy has not been so low since 1901.

In the country’s most recent coup in 2013, rebels backing Michel Djotodia ousted President Francois Bozize. Djotodia’s time in office, however, did not last long. Facing opposition from Christian rebels, he stepped down in 2014. Since, Catherine Samba-Panza has been the acting CAR president, the third female leader of an African country.

 

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