Special Report

The Richest Countries in the World

Thomas C. Frohlich, Evan Comen

Ruins of Dunluce Castle, Northern Ireland, Co. Antrim
Source: Thinkstock

15. Ireland
> GNI per capita: $43,797.97
> 2015 GDP: $305.04 billion
> Population: 4,640,703
> Life expectancy: 81.2 years at birth

Ireland’s economy grew by 26.3% in 2015, by far the fastest of any country the World Bank reviewed. However, this growth has likely been a gross overestimate. As the Irish Times reported in July, large GDP growth distortions can occur when Irish-based companies acquire larger foreign companies or even after the government implements new tax rules. Even if GDP growth is misleading, the country’s GNI of $43,797 per capita makes Ireland residents some of the wealthiest in the world.

A recent IMF report on the stability of the Irish economy predicts the UK’s vote to leave the EU is very likely to have adverse effects on Ireland’s financial system.

Equestrian statue of Frederik VII, Copenhagen, Denmark.
Source: Thinkstock

14. Denmark
> GNI per capita: $44,518.92
> 2015 GDP: $258.78 billion
> Population: 5,676,002
> Life expectancy: 80.5 years at birth

Much like other wealthy European, particularly Nordic, countries, Denmark imposes high tax rates and provides generous social programs. Denmark’s top marginal tax rate of approximately 56% and the effective personal income tax rate of between 35% and 48% are each some of the highest tax rates anywhere. While public social spending as a percentage of GDP has fallen in some wealthy countries — including Germany and Canada — in recent years, it remained high in other countries, including Denmark. In fact, Denmark spends on social programs the third most as a percentage of its GDP after France and Finland.

In its most recent evaluation of national government transparency, research organization Transparency International ranked Denmark as the world’s least corrupt country.

Cologne, Germany
Source: Thinkstock

13. Germany
> GNI per capita: $44,999.65
> 2015 GDP: $3.86 trillion
> Population: 81,413,145
> Life expectancy: 80.8 years at birth

With a GNI of $45,000 per capita, Germany is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Germany has the world’s third largest export economy, and its exports include an array of machine, transportation, chemical, and metal products. Home to the headquarters of Audi, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Volkswagen, and Porsche, Germany is the largest exporter of cars worldwide.

While crude oil and refined petroleum are some of Germany’s top imports today, their importance to the German economy may dwindle in the near future. As a relatively affluent nation, Germany has been able to invest substantial resources to develop alternative energy sources. Germany currently generates 31% of its electricity through renewable fuel sources, roughly triple the share from a decade ago.

Gamla Stan in Stockholm, Sweden
Source: Thinkstock

12. Sweden
> GNI per capita: $46,250.79
> 2015 GDP: $474.81 billion
> Population: 9,798,871
> Life expectancy: 82.0 years at birth

With a GNI of $46,251 per capita, the Swedish are the second wealthiest people in the Nordic region. An export-oriented economy, Sweden maintains a positive trade balance. The country’s top exports are refined petroleum, medicine, automobile parts, and telephones. Sweden’s top trading partners are similarly wealthy nations — Germany, the United Kingdom, and Denmark.

Like most Nordic countries, Sweden’s high taxes and government spending help redistribute the nation’s wealth, ensuring relatively high national income equality, and allowing most of the population to enjoy a high quality of life. The average Swedish life expectancy at birth is 82 years, far longer than the U.S. life expectancy of 78.9 years.

Tulip Fields, Netherlands
Source: Thinkstock

11. Netherlands
> GNI per capita: $46,325.58
> 2015 GDP: $840.47 billion
> Population: 16,936,520
> Life expectancy: 81.3 years at birth

Like many wealthy countries in Europe, the Netherlands has a mixed economy that relies heavily on trade, especially with other countries on the continent. As a testament to the Netherlands’ trade-dependence, government officials have advocated for policies that will improve the Dutch economy through strengthening Europe’s economy as a whole. After the United States, the Netherlands is the second-largest exporter of agricultural products, which account for 18.8% of Dutch exports. Agricultural product shipments from the Netherlands totalled approximately $87.6 billion in 2015, with by far the largest portion of trade going to Germany. These products include primarily vegetables, meat, dairy, and eggs, but also flowers and plants.

With a GNI of $46,326 per capita, well above the EU average of $35,339, Dutch residents are some of the richest people in the world.