The World’s Best and Happiest Countries – How Did the Good Old USA Rank?

First, let me explain the link between all the cars in the photo above and the title of the post.

This past weekend was move in day at Villanova for all non-freshmen (the freshmen came a few days earlier for orientation). I enjoy taking in all of the activity and excitement that surrounds move-in day, as shown in the photo. It’s a way to get myself psyched up for the new semester (one observation – doesn’t anyone drive a sedan any more?)

What it also means is that it’s time for me to get back to teaching.

As part of getting ready for my first class (an Intro to Business course), I like to highlight the global nature of business, the impact of business on quality of life, and how the U.S. compares to other countries on a few metrics.

So I thought I’d share a couple of the rankings that I plan to show my students this week. I’ve talked about these rankings before, but it’s been a while, so here are the latest.

The first ranking is an overall “Best Countries” ranking from U.S. News & World Report for 2018. Here’s a brief description of the methodology, copied from the U.S. News & World Report web site:

“… rankings are based on how global perceptions define countries in terms of a number of qualitative characteristics, impressions that have the potential to drive trade, travel and investment and directly affect national economies. The report covers perceptions of 80 nations. The study and model used to score and rank countries were developed by Y&R’s BAV Group and The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, specifically professor David J. Reibstein, in consultation with U.S. News & World Report. A set of 65 country attributes – terms that can be used to describe a country and that are also relevant to the success of a modern nation – were identified. Attributes by nation were presented in a survey of more than 21,000 people from across the globe. Participants assessed how closely they associated an attribute with a nation. Each country was scored on each of the 65 country attributes based on a collection of individual survey responses. The more a country was perceived to exemplify a certain characteristic in relation to the average, the higher that country’s attribute score and vice versa. These scores were normalized to account for outliers and transformed into a scale that could be compared across the board. Attributes were grouped into nine subrankings that rolled into the Best Countries ranking: Adventure, Citizenship, Cultural Influence, Entrepreneurship, Heritage, Movers, Open for Business, Power and Quality of Life.”

I’m guessing few of you care about the methodology, so let’s get to the rankings. Here are the top 10, based on overall rank, as well as the rank across the individual categories for these 10 countries:

As you can see, the U.S. was ranked eighth overall, with its strongest rank in the Power category, coming in at number one. Here is a brief description of the categories:

If we look at the quality of life ranking by itself, here are the top 10. As U.S. News & World Report points out, this metric looks at how well countries treat their citizens well through all phases of life. Scandinavian countries fared well, as did Australia and Canada.

Country Rank
Canada 1
Denmark 2
Sweden 3
Norway 4
Australia 5
Switzerland 6
Finland 7
Netherlands 8
New Zealand 9
Germany 10
United States 17

In addition to these two rankings, I like to share the World Happiness Ranking, for 2018, from Wikipedia. All the top countries tend to have high values for all six of the key variables that have been found to support well-being: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity. I included the top 20 countries here so that the U.S. would appear.

The World Happiness Report is an annual publication of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network which contains rankings of national happiness and analysis of the data from various perspectives.

Overall Rank Country Score GDP per capita Social support Healthy life expectancy Freedom to make life choices Generosity Perceptions of corruption
1  Finland 7.632 1.305 1.592 0.874 0.681 0.192 0.393
2  Norway 7.594 1.456 1.582 0.861 0.686 0.286 0.340
3  Denmark 7.555 1.351 1.590 0.868 0.683 0.284 0.408
4  Iceland 7.495 1.343 1.644 0.914 0.677 0.353 0.138
5   Switzerland 7.487 1.420 1.549 0.927 0.660 0.256 0.357
6  Netherlands 7.441 1.361 1.488 0.878 0.638 0.333 0.295
7  Canada 7.328 1.330 1.532 0.896 0.653 0.321 0.291
8  New Zealand 7.324 1.268 1.601 0.876 0.669 0.365 0.389
9  Sweden 7.314 1.355 1.501 0.913 0.659 0.285 0.383
10  Australia 7.272 1.340 1.573 0.910 0.647 0.361 0.302
11  Israel 7.190 1.244 1.433 0.888 0.464 0.262 0.082
12  Austria 7.139 1.341 1.504 0.891 0.617 0.242 0.224
13  Costa Rica 7.072 1.010 1.459 0.817 0.632 0.143 0.101
14  Ireland 6.977 1.448 1.583 0.876 0.614 0.307 0.306
15  Germany 6.965 1.340 1.474 0.861 0.586 0.273 0.280
16  Belgium 6.927 1.324 1.483 0.894 0.583 0.188 0.240
17  Luxembourg 6.910 1.576 1.520 0.896 0.632 0.196 0.321
18  United States 6.886 1.398 1.471 0.819 0.547 0.291 0.133
19  United Kingdom 6.814 1.301 1.559 0.883 0.533 0.354 0.272
20  United Arab Emirates 6.774 2.096 0.776 0.670 0.284 0.186 N/A

There is one observation I find interesting. In comparing the Overall Best Countries rankings and the Happiness rankings, there are only five countries that made the top 10 of each list: Switzerland, Netherlands, Sweden, Canada, and Australia. However, when the Quality of Life rankings are compared with the Happiness rankings, nine of the top 10 are the same (although not in the same order). The only difference is that Germany made it into the top 10 Best Countries ranking but not the top 10 Happiness ranking, while the opposite occurred for Iceland.

What makes this interesting is that the rankings were done by two different organizations, yet they came up with remarkably consistent rankings for Quality of Life and Happiness. When I think about it, the results make sense; a country that offers a high quality of life is likely going to lead to high perceptions of happiness among its citizens.

And if you believe that Happiness is something we all want, then it seems that concentrating on quality of life issues may be a great way to boost the happiness level of people. As noted above, Quality of Life includes a good job market, affordable, economically stable, family friendly, income equality, politically stable, safe, well-developed public education system, and a well-developed public health system.

And while the Scandinavian countries do quite well in these rankings, we don’t have to look that far for guidance on how we could do better. Canada is strong on all three metrics above, but really shines in the Quality of Life rank, coming in at number one, and in the Best Countries rank, coming in at number two.

O Canada! Please share your secrets with us.

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