Special Report

The Richest Countries in the World

Thomas C. Frohlich, Evan Comen

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Kingdom Tower
Source: Thinkstock

10. Saudi Arabia
> GNI per capita: $50,641.31
> 2015 GDP: $1.69 trillion
> Population: 31,540,372
> Life expectancy: 74.3 years at birth

Explorers in Saudi Arabia first struck oil in 1938. Today, the kingdom — home to 18% of all known petroleum reserves — is the world’s largest exporter of petroleum and the Middle East’s largest economy. Much like other countries that have reaped the wealth of natural resources and depend excessively on oil, Saudi’s economy has suffered with the recent drop in oil prices. The recent decline in the price of crude oil led to growing budget deficits in Saudi Arabia and cuts in government programs. Climate change policies and competition from U.S. oil production could exacerbate Saudi Arabia’s budget problems. In light of these concerns, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who heads Saudi Arabia’s state oil monopoly, has initiated massive government restructuring.

On the whole, Saudis enjoy substantially better living conditions than many other residents of the Middle East. For example, the life expectancy at birth of 74.3 years is well above the average life expectancy of 70.6 for the Arab region. The life expectancy in Saudi Arabia still trails most countries in Europe and the United States, however.

Washington DC, United States
Source: Thinkstock

9. United States
> GNI per capita: $53,245.08
> 2015 GDP: $18.04 trillion
> Population: 321,418,820
> Life expectancy: 78.9 years at birth

The United States has the largest economy in the world and the ninth wealthiest people. Despite being the second largest exporter in the world after China and one of the largest exporters of refined petroleum products such as gasoline, the United States imports more than it exports, running a trade deficit of $36.4 billion in September.

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

Hong Kong Famous Night View SAR
Source: Thinkstock

8. Hong Kong SAR, China
> GNI per capita: $54,264.91
> 2015 GDP: $415.87 billion
> Population: 7,305,700
> Life expectancy: 84.0 years at birth

Located along the southern tip of China and across the South China Sea from Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines, Hong Kong is one of the world’s most active trade economies. The Port of Hong Kong is the maritime access point to China for most of Southeast Asia, and it ships more cargo than all but three other ports worldwide. Hong Kong’s total exports are worth more than twice the Special Administrative Region’s GDP of $415.9 billion, and imports almost as much. Hong Kong is also one of the world’s top financial centers, bolstered in part by the region’s business-friendly tax climate.

High incomes often have a positive impact on regional health outcomes. The average Hong Kong resident can expect to live for 84 years, the longest life expectancy of any region reviewed.

Historic city of Zürich with river Limmat, Switzerland
Source: Thinkstock

7. Switzerland
> GNI per capita: $56,363.96
> 2015 GDP: $483.14 billion
> Population: 8,286,976
> Life expectancy: 82.8 years at birth

With a GNI of $56,364 per capita, Switzerland’s 8.3 million citizens are among the wealthiest in the world and more than $20,000 wealthier than the average citizen across all E.U. countries. Like most developed nations, the bulk of Switzerland’s economy consists of service industries. The famous Swiss banking sector brings substantial foreign investment to the country. Roughly one quarter of all private offshore funds worldwide are held at Swiss banks, the largest share of any country. Switzerland is also the world’s leading exporter of gold and precious metal watches. Exports account for 63.5% of the country’s GDP, a larger share than the 42.9% average for EU countries.

A further indication of the nation’s affluence, access to medical care in Switzerland is second-to-none. There are more than four physicians for every 1,000 people in the country. Access to care and the myriad benefits of national prosperity have likely made the Swiss one of the healthiest populations in the world. The average life expectancy at birth in Switzerland is 82.8 years, the fourth longest of any nation.

United Arab Emirates
Source: Thinkstock

6. United Arab Emirates
> GNI per capita: $64,661.37
> 2015 GDP: $643.99 billion
> Population: 9,156,963
> Life expectancy: 77.4 years at birth

With a GNI of $64,661 per capita, the United Arab Emirates is the sixth wealthiest country in the world. The country has one of the largest reserves of crude petroleum. The UAE’s oil and gas industry currently accounts for an estimated 30% of the nation’s GDP. Nearly all of the confirmed crude oil reserves in the UAE are located in Abu Dhabi and are controlled by the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. With 137 billion barrels of oil, ADNOC is the fourth largest oil company worldwide.

Due to the recent global decline in oil prices, the UAE government last year posted its first fiscal deficit since 2009. Like many oil-rich countries, the UAE has begun initiatives to lower its dependence on oil revenue. The country has an active tourism industry and has recently made efforts to boost its non-oil foreign trade, renewable energy, and logistics sectors.