Some countries are wonderful places to live. They have stable governments, reasonable prices for consumer goods, plenty of job opportunities, strong social programs, and robust systems for health care, education, and national security. They may even have ample nature spaces, such as national parks, and strong support for the arts and culture. These are general traits of a developed country, which is usually a nice place to call home.
On the other hand, picture a country whose residents must endure political strife (possibly even violence), rampant inflation, high unemployment, poor health care, substandard education, and uncertain security, with few social programs, let alone support for the arts. This troubled land would be an “undeveloped country,” possibly even one of the [“least developed countries”]((/country-rankings/least-developed-countries), and a much worse place to live.
The question is, what is the best way to quickly encapsulate which is which?
Seeking the sub-standard: How to identify the worst countries in which to live
There are several annual metrics designed to measure the quality of day-to-day life in a given country.
Some of these metrics concentrate upon a single aspect of a country—for instance, the Hanke Misery Index focuses upon the economy, knowing that a healthy economy is a strong indicator of the quality of the day-to-day life of a country's residents. Others, such as the United Nations' Human Development Index (HDI), compile a wide range of metrics across a half-dozen or more categories for a more overarching, whole-life approach.
These different approaches can result in very different lists of the worst countries in the world in which to live.
Top 10 Worst Countries in the World to Live In - United Nations Human Development Index 2020
Note: Scores rank from 0.0 to 1.0. Higher is better.
- Niger - .394
- Central African Republic - .397
- Chad - .398
- Burundi - .433 (tie)
- South Sudan - .433 (tie)
- Mali - .434
- Burkina Faso - .452 (tie)
- Sierra Leone - .452 (tie)
- Mozambique - .456
- Eritrea - .459
Central African countries dominate this list. Many of these countries, including Niger, Chad, South Sudan, Mali, and Burkina Faso, are currently at war thanks to civil war, ethnic violence, or terrorist insurgencies. Even for those countries that are not plagued with strife, most people attend school for only a few years, and good jobs are rare, which leaves millions of people living below the poverty line.
For example, the average person in Niger attends only 2.1 years of school, and the country's Gross National Income (GNI) per capita is $1201 PPP. To put that in perspective, top-ranked Norway (HDI .957) has a GNI of $66,494 and its citizens attend 12.9 years of school on average.
A full list of the most recent HDI rankings can be found on our HDI by country page.
Top 10 Worst Countries in the World to Live In - Hanke Misery Index 2020
Note: Lower scores are better.
- Venezuela - 3827.6
- Zimbabwe - 547.0
- Sudan - 193.9
- Lebanon - 177.1
- Suriname - 145.3
- Libya - 105.7
- Argentina - 95.0
- Iran - 92.1
- Angola - 60.6
- Madagascar - 60.4
The misery index was originally introduced by the late Arthur Okun, a Yale University economist, as a way to track the U.S. economy. More recently, John Hopkins economist Steve Hanke expanded the concept to include 156 countries and established an annual ranking of the world's best and worst countries to live in from an economic perspective.
The misery index is simple in concept. The equation adds together the unemployment rate, inflation rate, and bank lending rate, then subtracts the percentage change in real GDP per capita.
For most developed countries, the misery index hovers between a very good 0.00 and a passable 20.00. However, it is possible in extreme cases for a country to score so well that its misery index is a negative number—for example, in 2020, oil reserves were discovered in Guyana, resulting in a 25% boost in GDP per capita and a -3.3 misery index.
On the other hand, 2020's worst country in the world to live in, Venezuela, demonstrates the worse end of the equation. 2020 is the sixth year in a row that Venezuela has received this dubious designation—and given the country's 3,713% inflation and 50.3% unemployment rate, which easily overshadow a 30.9% rise in real GDP per capita for an ultimate misery index score of 3827.6, Venezuela seems well on its way to holding onto its best-of-the-worst spot for the foreseeable future.
For the full list of misery index countries and their scores, see the table below.