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 the financial well-being of its citizens. 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. Similarly, the profits of foreign-owned enterprises within the United States are excluded from the U.S. GNI.
As some portion of the value generated in a country is bound to leave the country, and increasing global connectivity continues to facilitate the conduct of international business and the flow of income across international borders, GNI becomes a more useful measure of national wealth.
While national economies are extraordinarily complex, the wealthiest countries share certain characteristics that can help explain their prosperity.
Many of the wealthiest countries in the world have abundant oil reserves and export-oriented economies. Many of these countries often have a state-owned national oil company. Such national oil companies currently control 90% of all proven reserves worldwide. The decision to nationalize petroleum supplies in many oil-rich countries was meant as a safeguard against exploitation by private Big Oil corporations and was instrumental in achieving the wealth these countries enjoy today. Qatar, which has one of the largest proven oil reserves in the world, has the highest GNI per capita of any country.
Some countries are not endowed with abundant natural resources, but their location may be advantageous to a trade economy. Hong Kong, for example, is the maritime access point to China for most of Southeast Asia, and its port ships more cargo than all but three other ports worldwide. Relative to its GDP, Hong Kong trades more than any other country. Like other heavily trade-dependent economies, Hong Kong facilitates open trade with low taxes and other business-friendly regulations.
One of the most common and successful economic models is the balanced, diversified, open economy found throughout Western Europe and in the United States and Canada. Such mixed economies often maintain slight trade surpluses, heavily exporting and importing a variety of products to neighboring countries. Many of these countries also benefit from a wealth of natural resources.
Because of their diverse sources of revenue, the mixed economies of Western Europe, the United States, and Canada are often more resilient to global market fluctuations than economies that rely on one industry. In Macao, the gambling capital of Asia, for example, more than 40% of the national GDP is generated by the tourism industry. Gambling revenues in Macao fell precipitously after the global economic downturn and a corruption crackdown from the Chinese government. Macao’s GDP fell by 20.3% in 2015, the most of any country.
Depending on the distribution of wealth within a country, citizens of nations with higher GNI per capita may enjoy a higher quality of life. In the mixed economies of Western Europe, income inequality is low and increased national wealth often results in decreases in poverty and unemployment and increases in life expectancy and educational attainment. In places with greater income inequality, as is found in many of the Middle Eastern oil-rich countries, not all citizens may reap the benefits of national wealth or enjoy a high quality of life.
To identify the richest countries, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed GNI data from the World Bank. We ranked the top 25 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 richest countries.
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