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Based on the most recent release of the Human Development Index by the United Nations Development Programme, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the most and least livable countries. Data from the Human Development Index is based on three dimensions of human progress — having a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable, and having a good standard of living. According to the index, Norway is the most livable country in the world, while Niger is the least livable.

One factor that influences a country’s development is its income. The U.N. used gross national income in its calculation of the Human Development Index to reflect the standard of living in a country. In the most developed countries, gross income per capita is generally quite high. All of the world’s 10 most livable countries had among the top 30 gross nationa lincomes per person. The top-rated country, Norway, had the world’s sixth highest gross national income per capita of $63,909.

At the other end of the spectrum, the world’s least developed countries typically had very low incomes. Six of these 10 least livable nations were among the bottom 10 countries by gross national income per capita. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, which had the lowest gross national income per capita in the world, at just $444 last year, was the second least developed country worldwide.

Similarly, these countries also generally had extremely high percentage of their populations living on just $1.25 a day or less, adjusted for purchasing power. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Burundi, more than 80% of the population lived on less than $1.25 per day.

Life expectancies, another factor considered in the Human Development Index, were also far better in highly developed nations. Switzerland, Australia, and Singapore were all among the top rated countries with life expectancies greater than 82 years for individuals born in 2013. By this metric, the United States is a relative laggard. The median life expectancy at birth in the U.S. of 78.9 years was ranked just 38th worldwide.

For individuals born in the world’s least developed nations, the average life expectancy was far lower. In all but one of these nations, a person born in 2013 had a life expectancy of less than 60 years. Sierra Leone, the fifth-lowest ranked nation, had the worst life expectancy, at just 45.6 years.

Sadly, among the factors contributing to these low life expectancies are, almost certainly, high mortality rates for infants and young children. Sierra Leone, which had the lowest life expectancy, also had the highest mortality rates for infants and children under five, at 117 deaths and 182 deaths per 1,000 livebirths.

Education also plays a role in determining development. In all but one of the most developed countries, residents aged 25 and older spent an average of more than 12 years in school. By contrast, in all of the world’s least developed countries, adult residents had less than four years of education on average.

The most and least developed nations also tend to be clustered geographically. Five of the 10 most developed countries are located in Europe. All of the least developed nations, on the other hand, are located in Africa, where political turmoil, health crises, and lack of infrastructure are far more common.

Despite their low scores, however, several of the world’s least developed nations have worked towards improving their economies in recent years, and their Human Development Index scores have improved as well. Mozambique is perhaps the best example. While it is still the 10th lowest rated nation, its score had risen by 2.5% per year between 2000 and 2013, faster than almost all other countries globally. Burundi’s score also rose substantially, by 2.3% per year in that time.

To identify the most and least developed nations, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the latest Human Development Index figures published by the U.N. The index included three dimensions made up of select metrics. The health dimension incorporated life expectancy at birth. The education dimension was based on the average and expected years of schooling, for adults 25 and older and newly-enrolled children, respectively. The standard of living dimension was determined by gross national income per capita. We also considered other statistics published by the U.N. alongside the index, including inequality measures, mortality measures, poverty rates, and expenditures on health and education as a percent of gross domestic product (GDP). All data are for the most recent period available.

These are the most livable countries.

10. Denmark
> Human Development Index score: 0.900
> Gross nat’l income per capita: $42,880 (16th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 79.4 years (34th highest)
> Expected years of schooling: 16.9 years (10th highest)

Denmark was rated 0.900 out of a possible 1.000 on the Human Development Index in 2013, the 10th highest out of 187 countries and unchanged from the year before. Last year, a typical Danish newborn was expected to live 79.4 years, among the higher rates globally but slightly lower than other most livable countries. Like in other Nordic nations, Danes have access to one of the world’s best health and welfare systems. Residents are subject to high taxes, and the Danish government spends more as a percent of its GDP than most of the world on health and education. New mothers and fathers in Denmark have access to up to a year’s parental leave and other programs that support families. Denmark is also one of the best countries in the world for gender equality. For example, women made up nearly 40% of the national parliament, one of the highest rates reviewed.

9. Singapore
> Human Development Index score: 0.901
> Gross nat’l income per capita: $72,371 (4th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 82.3 years (6th highest)
> Expected years of schooling: 15.4 years (39th highest)

Singapore is the most livable country in Asia. As of last year, the country’s life expectancy was among the highest in the world, at more than 82 years. Singapore also reported some of the lowest mortality rates — for both men and women — in the world. Students in the country were also strong performers, achieving some of the world’s best scores in math, science, and reading. With a gross national income of $72,371 per capita last year, Singapore is also among the wealthiest countries in the world. Physically very small, Singapore is entirely urban and home to a population of roughly 5.4 million as of last year.

8. Canada
> Human Development Index score: 0.902
> Gross nat’l income per capita: $41,887 (19th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 81.5 years (14th highest)
> Expected years of schooling: 15.9 years (25th highest)

Canada received strong marks for human development in part because of the quality of its education system. Virtually all Canadians 25 and older had at least some secondary education. Also, the average performance of 15 year olds in math, science, and reading were among the best in the world in 2012. Canada’s national health insurance system covers medically necessary procedures, providing nearly all Canadians with access to medical care. Although some medical costs are excluded from the system, just 14.4% of health expenditures were considered out-of-pocket spending in 2011, lower than in most countries. Canada’s life expectancy at birth, at 81.5 years, was also among the world’s best.

7. New Zealand
> Human Development Index score: 0.910
> Gross nat’l income per capita: $32,569 (30th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 81.1 years (17th highest)
Expected years of schooling: 19.4 years (2nd highest)

A typical New Zealander starting school in 2012 was expected to receive more than 19 years of education, higher than in every country except for neighboring Australia, and perhaps an indication of the country’s strong education system. New Zealand invested 7.2% of its GDP on education in 2012, one of the highest expenditures worldwide. And while spending does not always yield strong outcomes, New Zealand students consistently performed above-average on international assessment tests. Like most livable countries, New Zealand residents also enjoy one of the world’s highest life expectancies. A newborn was expected to live more than 81 years as of last year.

6. Germany
> Human Development Index score: 0.911
> Gross nat’l income per capita: $43,049 (14th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 80.7 years (20th highest)
> Expected years of schooling: 16.3 years (18th highest)

Germany has one of the largest economies in the world, with a gross domestic product of close to $3.4 trillion in 2012. German adults over 25 hdd an average of nearly 13 years of schooling as of 2012, the most in the world. Germany is also among the countries that offer a pension to 100% of the population that is of statutory retirement age. However, with the population aging, the retirement age is set to gradually rise from 65 to 67 by 2029. The country requires both employees and their employers to together contribute roughly 40% of a worker’s gross wages towards pension insurance, health insurance, unemployment insurance, and other elements of the German social safety net.

5. United States
> Human Development Index score: 0.914
> Gross nat’l income per capita: $52,308 (11th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 78.9 years (36th highest)
> Expected years of schooling: 16.5 years (13th highest)

The United States has the world’s biggest economy, with a GDP of nearly $16 trillion in 2012, and a gross national income per capita of $52,308, among the highest in the world. Despite the large economy, Americans struggle with income and gender inequality. Between 2003 and 2012, the United States had a Gini coefficient — a measure of income inequality — far worse than that of other most livable countries. Also, despite spending nearly 18% of its GDP on health care in 2011, more than all but two other countries, the United States lags behind other most livable countries in life expectancy. Americans’ life expectancy at birth was 78.9 years last year, the lowest on this list. Nevertheless, the country offers some of the best opportunities — in education, science, business, and arts — that Americans can readily enjoy.

4. Netherlands
> Human Development Index score: 0.915
> Gross nat’l income per capita: $42,397 (17th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 81.0 years (18th highest)
> Expected years of schooling: 17.9 years (5th highest)

The Netherlands is among the more equitable countries measured by the United Nations, with a Gini coefficient far lower than that of the United States and a number of other highly developed nations. The country also scored well in gender equality due to its low maternal mortality rate, low teen birth rate, and the high level of female representation in parliament. Last year, 37.8% of representatives in parliament in the Netherlands were women, well above the 18.2% in the U.S. Congress.

3. Switzerland
> Human Development Index score: 0.917
> Gross nat’l income per capita: $53,762 (9th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 82.6 years (3rd highest)
> Expected years of schooling: 15.7 years (28th highest)

Known for its political and economic stability, Switzerland also had the third highest life expectancy out of all countries reviewed, behind only Japan and Hong Kong. Switzerland’s gross national income was $53,762 per capita in 2013, higher than all but a few countries reviewed. Switzerland also scored among the highest in terms of gender equality, with exceptionally high female labor participation and educational attainment rates. In addition, there were less than two teen pregnancies per 1,000 people reported in 2010, nearly the lowest adolescent birth rate. Foreigners, however, may not necessarily have option of moving to this highly livable country. Switzerland, which is not part of the European Union, recently approved quotas and other controls on immigration.

2. Australia
> Human Development Index score: 0.933
> Gross nat’l income per capita: $41,524 (20th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 82.5 years (4th highest)
> Expected years of schooling: 19.9 years (the highest)

Australia had one of the longest life expectancies in 2013, at 82.5 years. Residents 25 and older had also spent more time in school than adults in any other country, at 12.9 years on average as of 2012. Australia’s per capita gross national income of $41,524 last year was roughly on par with other highly developed countries. Additionally, at 5.2% last year, the country’s unemployment rate was far lower than similarly developed countries in Europe as well as the United States. Australia’s economy has benefitted tremendously from a mining boom in recent years, although the economy is currently rebalancing as iron ore prices have dropped and gorwth in China — a major trade partner — has slowed.

1. Norway
> Human Development Index score: 0.944
> Gross nat’l income per capita: $63,909 (6th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 81.5 years (13th highest)
> Expected years of schooling: 17.6 years (6th highest)

According to the Human Development Index, no country is more livable than Norway. Relative to the country’s population of just 5 million, Norway’s economy is quite large. Norway had a gross national income of $63,909 per capita last year, more than all but five other nations. Oil revenue has helped Norway become quite wealthy and accounts for a majority of the country’s exports. Like several other highly-developed countries, and Scandinavia in particular, 100% of retirement age Norway residents receive a pension. Norwegians also enjoy particularly good health outcomes. There were just two deaths per 1,000 live births in 2012, tied for the lowest infant mortality rate.
By Alexander E.M. Hess and Thomas C. Frohlich
The 10 Most Livable Countries

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