Which countries are the most economically productive? The answer can be challenging to determine because different countries specialize in different industries. One country may be a global leader in manufacturing, another at agriculture, and a third in financial services and tourism. In order to create an even and objective basis of comparison, economists use metrics such as Gross domestic product (GDP) and Gross National Income (GNI), which measure the monetary value of all of the goods and services of any type created by a country (GDP) or its people (GNI).
GDP is typically measured in U.S. dollars (USD) or international dollars (INT$), an imaginary currency used to make country-to-country comparisons easier. However, GDP is a measure of total output. In order to arrive at a measure of efficiency, GDP must be divided by the number of people in the country (or, even more accurately, by the number of people actually employed) to determine the country's output per person (typically referred to as per capita).
Top 10 Most Productive Countries in the World (unit: GDP per Capita, PPP INT$)*
- Luxembourg — 134,754
- Singapore — 116,487
- Ireland — 106,456
- Qatar — 93,521
- Bermuda — 85,192
- Norway — 79,201
- Switzerland — 77,324
- Macau — 73,802
- Cayman Islands — 72,481
- United States — 69,288
*For full data, see table following page text.
While most industries are profit- and efficiency-focused, some are more efficient than others, and a few likely played a large role in helping their respective countries land in the top 10. Luxembourg, Singapore, Bermuda, Switzerland, and the Cayman Islands are all among the world's leading tax haven countries (as is Ireland by many definitions), which generates substantial business in their financial sectors. Qatar has a tiny population but is one of the world's leading exporters of oil and natural gas. Qatar also benefits from a strong tourism industry, as do Macau, Bermuda, and the Cayman Islands.
Helpful as it is, GDP per capita alone does not provide a complete impression of productivity because it does not consider the number of hours worked in an average work week varies significantly between countries, which is vital when measuring productivity. To provide a more complete economic analysis, economists have devised measures such as GDP per hour worked, which is a measure of a country's productivity, excluding unemployment or hours worked per week.
Top 10 Most Productive Countries in the World (unit: GDP per Hour Worked, USD)**
- Ireland — 119.1
- Luxembourg — 110.8
- Denmark — 87.7
- Belgium — 86.8
- Norway — 85.6
- Switzerland — 81.4
- France — 79.7
- United States — 79.6
- Austria — 79.4
- Sweden — 79.1
Gross domestic product (GDP) refers to the total monetary value of the goods and services produced within one country. Purchasing power parity (PPP) is a macroeconomic metric used to compare economic productivity and living standards between nations. GDP (PPP) uses nominal GDP adjusted for the relative cost of local goods, services, and inflation rates of the country, rather than using international market exchange rates.
GDP (PPP) per hour worked measures how efficiently labor input, the total hours worked all of the persons engaged in production, is combined with other factors of production and used in the production process. We can refer to GDP (PPP) per hour as productivity per hour. Below are the ten most productive countries and their average work weeks.
Ireland’s productivity per hour is the highest of any country at $119.10. Full-time Irish employees work about 39.7 hours per week. Ireland’s high concentration of multinationals drives its largest productivity gains. Labor productivity grew an average of 4.5% between 2000 and 2016.
Luxembourg’s productivity per hour is $110.80. The average workweek in Luxembourg is about 40 hours. It is believed that the main reason for Luxembourg’s high productivity levels is its financial sector. If Luxembourg were to adopt the Scandinavian work-life balance, it is believed that productivity would increase even more.
Denmark is the seventh-most productive country in the world at $87.70 per hour worked. Denmark has the shortest average workweek of just 37.2 hours for full-time employees of the OECD member countries. Denmark will need to continue to grow its worker productivity to keep up with its welfare system and aging population.
Belgian workers contribute $86.80 to Belgium’s GDP (PPP) per hour worked, making Belgium the tenth-most productive country in the world. The average workweek for full-time employees in Belgium is about 38.8 hours. Employees have strong skills and are highly educated, allowing them to enjoy high wages, relatively low inequality, and an excellent work-life balance.
Norway’s productivity per hour is $85.60. Norway has the third-lowest average workweek in the world of 38.0 hours per week. Additionally, work-life balance is highly valued, and family is a greater priority than work. Parents are often allowed to leave work early to pick up their kids from school. Norwegians are known for being extremely efficient and task-oriented at work and can shut out their jobs from their lives once the clock hits 4 p.m. (the typical end time of a Norwegian workday)
Switzerland is the third-most productive country. Per hour worked, Swiss workers add $81.40 to the economy. The average workweek for full-time employees is 40.5, and only 0.4% of employees work over 50 hours per week.
France ranks eighth globally. French workers contribute $79.70 to the GDP (PPP) per hour worked. France’s workweeks are the fifth-shortest among OECD countries at 38.9 hours. France’s productivity is about 25% higher than the OECD average and EU averages.
8. United States
The United States comes in at six for productivity with $79.60. American full-time employees work 41.5 hours per week, and about 11.1% of employees work over 50 hours per week. While the U.S. is still the sixth-most productive country per hour, this shows that many Americans live to work instead of working as a means to live.
One of the richest countries in the EU, Austria's score of $79.40 per hour worked comes courtesy of a well-rounded economy. In addition to a highly developed industrial sector, the country also enjoys a burgeoning tourism industry (winter sports enthusiasts are increasingly drawn to the country's slopes) and a massive financial services trade.
Rounding out the top 10 is Sweden, whose $79.10 per hour score is delivered in large part by the country's export-oriented economy. Sweden produces a vast range of products, including timber and other forestry products, pharmaceuticals, iron and steel products, hydroelectric power, motor vehicles, telecommunications equipment, other industrial machines and precision equipment, home appliances, and more. Also, like so many other top 10 countries, Sweden features an expansive financial services sector.