Standard of living refers to the level of wealth, comfort, necessities, and material goods available to a particular geographic area. It is closely related to (and often used interchangeably with) quality of life, which is generally understood to include the same measures of prosperity as standard of living, but also incorporate physical and mental health and wellness.
Because standard of living and quality of life are broad, but also slightly ambiguous terms, there is no universally agreed-upon technique for measuring them. However, this has given statisticians the opportunity to invent all manner of interesting equations, systems, and surveys that attempt the impossible task of boiling down quality of life (or on rarer occasions, standard of living) into a simple number.
The Quality of Life index
One of the most comprehensive equations is Numbeo's Quality of Life Index, which measures eight indices:
- Purchasing Power (including rent)
- Health Care
- Cost of Living
- Property Price to Income Ratio
- Traffic Commute Time
Purchasing power, cost of living, and property price to income ratio are all measures of the average citizen's financial wherewithal in a country, which connects directly to the standard of living. Traffic Commute Time is self-explanatory but vital (as any commuter will testify).
The safety index covers concerns about robberies, car theft, and other crimes, as well as the prevalence of drugs, property crime, violent crimes, and corruption and bribery. The health care index estimates the overall quality of the health care system, starting with costs to the patient and moving on to quality of care, equipment, doctors, and staff.
The pollution index estimates the overall pollution in the country. Air pollution is given the most significant weight, followed by water pollution and accessibility to clean water. The climate index is the climate likability of a given country. Countries with a climate index of 100 have moderate temperatures, low humidity, and no significant weather events or conditions.
Based on these indices, the top of the list breaks down as follows:
Top 10 Countries* with the Highest Quality of Life, mid-2021 - Numbeo
- Switzerland - 188.36
- Denmark - 186.25
- Netherlands - 180.27
- Finland - 178.95
- Australia - 178.41
- Iceland - 177.64
- Austria - 176.36
- Germany - 175.24
- New Zealand - 173.60
- Luxembourg - 171.81
*The full data for each list can be seen in the table further down this page.
Clearly, Northern Europe is home to some very satisfied people. However, the Numbeo equation is far from the only one.
Top 10 Countries with the Highest Quality of Life - U.S. News Best Countries Report 2021
- New Zealand
The U.S. News and World Report's annual "Best Countries Report", assembled in partnership with the BAV Group and The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, uses detailed surveys to track a similar, but different set of indicators. These include affordability, safety, the job market, level of income equality, economic and political stability, and the quality of public education and health systems.
Other than Canada and Sweden claiming two of the top three slots (they were 22nd and 13th in the numbeo rankings), the two lists include many of the same countries—but because of differences in either the survey questions or the methodology, the order changes.
The World's Top 10 Countries for Quality of Life, 2021 - CEO World
- Finland - 99.06
- Denmark - 98.13
- Norway - 96.75
- Belgium - 96.53
- Sweden - 96.15
- Switzerland - 94.40
- Netherlands - 93.69
- France - 92.08
- Germany - 91.26
- Japan - 91.23
This survey questioned more than 258,000 people on 10 metrics, including equality, stability, and government transparency. The usual suspects reappear, but their order is again scrambled from previous entries. Moreover, Canada drops to 12th on this list, which also slots Australia down at 17th and welcomes Japan into the top 10. Perhaps comically, although all three lists thus far have had a different country in the top slot, Denmark has placed second every time.
Top 10 Countries with Highest Human Development Index, 2020 Report - United Nations
- Norway - .957
- Ireland - .955 (tie)
- Switzerland - .955 (tie)
- Hong Kong (China) - .949 (tie)
- Iceland - .949 (tie)
- Germany - .947
- Sweden - .945
- Australia - .944
- Netherlands - .944
- Denmark - .940
Despite its more academic name, the United Nations' Human Development Index tracks many of the same factors as most measures of quality of life or standard of living. However, while most of the surveys on this page are based upon exactly that—surveys—the HDI is based more on empirical data such as life expectancy, years of schooling, and GNI per capita.
Nonetheless, many of the same countries appear in the top 10.