Historically, Western countries in the Northern Hemisphere — including Canada, Denmark, Sweden and Norway — have taken the lead in providing a high quality of life for their residents. Those countries, according to the 2018 Best Countries ranking, are viewed as the best at providing broad access to a variety of attributes, such as well-developed public education and health care systems.
Now a new index, the Human Life Indicator, or HLI, shifts the balance in favor of East Asia, ranking Hong Kong and Japan at the top of the list for their citizens’ well being. The United States finished 32nd in the HLI.
The HLI strives to be a simple and more-effective way of looking at well being compared to the U.N. ranking, its authors say. The HLI is produced by researchers from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, an international research organization in Austria. Those researchers assert that the U.N. measurement misses important factors when evaluating quality of life.
“The Human Life Indicator expresses well being in terms of years of life, similar to life expectancy at birth,” say the authors of the report. “However, unlike any other current measure, it takes not only the mean value but also the inequality in longevity into account.”
There is an important difference between countries where people generally live longer and countries where there is a wide gap between those dying very young and those dying very old — and the latter shouldn’t be considered a better nation, says Warren Sanderson, professor of economics at Stony Brook University and co-author of the HLI index.
In addition, there are countries where infant mortality might be very high or where people die in middle age from substance abuse or suicide, Sanderson says. These things need to be taken into consideration in order to get a clearer picture. “If you have people dying when the are old, that’s normal. When you have people dying at 30 and 40 it’s a negative indicator of well being.”
At the same time, country’s economic indicators are only relevant if its citizens feel the benefits of wealth.
“In our index, a country is not more developed just because it is richer. It is more developed only if it manages to increase the quality and hence the quantity of life of its citizens,” says Simone Ghislandi, professor at the Bocconi University in Italy and another co-author of the indicator.
When controlling for inequality in the ages at which people die, Hong Kong, a special administrative region in China, made it to the top of the Human Life Indicator list, a significant move up from the No. 12 ranking on the U.N.’s development ranking. Japan’s No. 2 ranking is 15 spots ahead of its U.N. score. Iceland, Singapore, Spain and Italy followed, all improving their initial U.N. score. Switzerland, Sweden, Norway and Australia complete the top 10 countries ranked by the Human Life Indicator.
“It’s not unexpected for these countries to rank high, as (they) have both high life expectancy and they are relatively equal (in lifespan),” Sanderson says. Unlike the U.S., “Countries like Hong Kong or Japan have no infant mortality, (and) they don’t have these high rates of suicide and opioid epidemic in the middle ages.”
While the top six places show an improved result when ranked by HLI, Switzerland, Norway and Australia performed worse. Norway, which ranks first in the U.N. index, falls nine spots in the HLI rank; Switzerland and Australia.
More from U.S. News
Hong Kong and Japan Top List of Well Being, Human Life Indicator Shows originally appeared on usnews.com