If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you go? It’s a fun question to ponder, but one that is very hard to seriously consider — especially for those who haven’t had the opportunity to go abroad. The United States is a very unique place. It houses an immense amount of diversity, both culturally and geographically, and being raised in and around that diversity often leads to feelings that you’ve ‘seen it all’. But there’s a whole world out there, and many other ways in which people live their lives.
It’s the world’s diversity that makes it such an interesting place. From the misty jungles of Southeast Asia, to the rocky, barren coasts of the North Atlantic — people have come together under single flags all around the world, and with a blend of cultural norms and policy decisions, created their own national identities.
Differing identities, of course, leads to a bit of friendly competition — not only for World Cups, but for investment dollars and trade as well. And some countries do it better than others.
As for deciphering which ones are better? That’s where The Legatum Institute enters the fray.
The London-based think tank has released its annual Prosperity Index, ranking 142 nations from top to bottom, according to metrics like economy, education, opportunity, and safety. The 2015 rankings are hot off the presses, and among the top tier, you’re likely to find the best places in the world to call home.
Here are the top 11 countries, per this year’s Prosperity Index.
11. The United States
If you wondered why we decided to count down from 11, it’s because that is the position at which the United States landed on this year’s list. The U.S., per these measures, is the eleventh most prosperous nation in the world. The U.S. ranked particularly high in the education and health categories, but it had one glaring weak spot: safety and security. That kept the U.S. on the periphery of the top ten this year.
Into the top 10 we go, with Ireland bringing up the rear. The Irish landed their top scores in safety and security, along with education, and ranked no lower than 18 in two categories: economy, and entrepreneurship & opportunity. Ireland also ranked high up the list in terms of personal freedom, coming in at the number six position.
Finland, one of several Northern European nations to crack the top 10, received very high scores in governance, education, and social capital. But it ranked highest — coming in third in the entire world — in safety and security. If there were any dings against Finland, it came in the economy category, in which the Finns came in at No. 33.
8. The Netherlands
Moving south of Finland and into mainland Europe, we arrive at The Netherlands in the eighth spot. Though famous for orange soccer jerseys, marijuana cafes, and the Amsterdam Red Light District, the Dutch put together an all-around impressive showing in the Legatum Institute’s rankings. At worst, The Netherlands came in at 19 in safety and security. It’s strengths, however, were in education, social capital, and health, all ranking within the top seven.
Far and away from almost every other country on the list is Australia. Our friends down under ranked the highest in the world in education, and were ninth in personal freedom and fourth in social capital. It also came in 15th in safety and security and health — its two lowest-rated categories.
Canada — or “America’s Hat”, as some call it — has been named the “freest country in the world” by the Legatum Institute, putting its southern neighbor to shame. As you may have guessed, that means that Canada took the top spot in the personal freedom category, and was also second in the world in education. Governance and social capital were also both rated within the top seven.
Back to Northern Europe we go, with Sweden making it into the top five. Sweden was the best country in the world in terms of entrepreneurship and opportunity, fourth in governance, and fifth in safety and security. In fact, the Swedes ranked within the top 10 in every category besides health and education, both of which were within the top 20.
4. New Zealand
Australia’s sidekick, New Zealand, received the highest marks for social capital in the world. It was also No. 2 in terms of governance and personal freedom. If there is room for improvement, it’s in the categories of health, and entrepreneurship and opportunity — where it ranked 19th and 17th, respectively.
You always hear about how wonderful Denmark is, and it seems like there’s a lot of truth to it. Denmark ranked within the top 15 for every category except health, where it landed at No. 16. Its strongest attributes were in social capital, governance, education, and entrepreneurship and opportunity, all ranking within the top three.
The Swiss ranked highly for cheese and army knives.
Switzerland blew away the competition as the top-rated country in governance, number two in economy, and three in entrepreneurship and opportunity. Health was ranked third as well, and social capital was ninth.
At the pinnacle of the Legatum Institute’s Prosperity Index is Norway. Norway ranked within the top 10 for every category out there — in the top eight, actually — with its strongest ranking being number two in social capital. It may be pretty chilly all the way up in the northernmost portion of Europe, but Norway is, evidently, the world’s most prosperous nation.
Follow Sam on Twitter @SliceOfGinger