Mapped: The World’s Oldest Democracies
Which country today is the world’s oldest democracy?
It’s a loaded question — as you’ll see, there is plenty of nuance involved in the answer.
Depending on how you define things, there are many jurisdictions that can lay claim to this coveted title. Let’s dive into some of these technicalities, and then we can provide context for how we’ve defined democracy in today’s particular chart.
Laying the Claim
If you’re looking for the very first instance of democracy, credit is often attributed to Ancient Athens. It’s there the term originated, based on the Greek words demos (“common people”) and kratos (“strength”). In the 6th century BC, the city-state allowed all landowners to speak at the legislative assembly, blazing a path that would be followed by democracies in the future.
However, Ancient Athens wasn’t really a country in the modern sense. It’s also not around anymore, so that certainly disqualifies the oldest continuous democratic country today.
Iceland and the Isle of Man both have interesting claims to democracy. Each has a parliamentary body that is over 1,000 years old, making them the longest standing democratic institutions in the world. But Iceland only got its independence in 1944 from Denmark — and while it is self-governing, the Isle of Man is not a country.
Of course, when we’re talking about democracy today, we’re really talking about universal suffrage. New Zealand may have the best claim here — by 1893, the self-governing colony allowed all women and ethnicities to vote in elections.
A Common Set of Criteria
While many civilizations, institutions, and societies have a rightful claim to contributing to democracy (including many we did not mention above), measuring the world’s oldest democracies today requires following a common set of criteria.
In today’s chart, we used data from Boix, C., Miller, M., & Rosato, S. (2013, 2018), which looks at the age of democratic regimes for 219 countries since the year 1800. Countries are classified as democracies if they meet the following conditions:
The executive is directly or indirectly elected in popular elections and is responsible either directly to voters or to a legislature.
The legislature (or the executive if elected directly) is chosen in free and fair elections.
A majority of adult men has the right to vote.
Democracies also have to be continuous in order to count. Although France has important democratic origins, the country is currently on its fifth republic since the French Revolution, thanks to Napoleon, Vichy France, and other instances where things went sideways.
While the above criteria isn’t perfect, it does create a stable playing field to assess when countries adopted democratic systems in principle. (However, the exclusion of certain populations, notably women and specific ethnicities, in being given the right to vote, or to be elected to legislative assemblies, is another story).
The Oldest Democracies, by Number of Years
Using the above criteria, here is a list of the world’s 25 oldest democracies:
|Rank||Country||Age of Democracy (Years)|
|#1||🇺🇸 United States||219*|
|#3||🇳🇿 New Zealand||162|
|#5||🇬🇧 United Kingdom||134|
|#16||🇸🇲 San Marino||74|
|#21||🇨🇷 Costa Rica||70|
* The data goes back to 1800, so U.S. democracy can be considered at least 219 years old.
Using this specific criteria, there is only one country with continuous democracy for more than 200 years (The United States), and fourteen countries with democracies older than a century.
As you’ll notice in the data, many countries became democracies after World War II. The Japanese Empire, for example, was occupied by Allied Forces and then dissolved. It then regained sovereignty afterwards, emerging as a newly democratic regime.
Final notes: The data here goes back to 1800, and we have adjusted it to be current as of 2019. One change we made was to Tunisia, which is listed as the 24th oldest democracy in the data. Based on our due diligence on the subject, we felt it was appropriate to leave it off the list, given that most experts see the country as only achieving the status in 2014 in the post-Arab Spring era.
Which Countries Have the Most Wealth Per Capita?
How do the rankings of the world’s most affluent countries change when using different metrics to measure wealth per capita?
Which Countries Have the Most Wealth Per Capita?
Our animated chart this week uses data from the ninth Credit Suisse Global Wealth report, which ranks countries by average wealth, calculated as gross assets per adult citizen.
While using such a metric certainly gives a quick snapshot of wealth per capita, it doesn’t necessarily show the complete picture.
Some argue, for example, that calculating the mean doesn’t factor in the gap between the richest and poorest in a population—also known as wealth inequality. For this reason, we’ve compared this number to median wealth for each country, providing a separate angle on which countries really have the most wealth per capita.
Mean or Median: Which Makes More Sense?
Below, we’ve visualized a hypothetical example of two groups of people, each earning various sums of money, to show how average (mean) and median calculations make a difference.
What can we observe in both datasets?
- Total wealth: $2,000
- Total people: 15 people
- Average wealth: $2,000 ÷ 15 = $133
However, that’s where the similarities end. In the first group, wealth is distributed more evenly, with the disparity between the lowest-paid and highest-paid being $300. The median wealth for this group reaches $100, which is close to the average value. In the second group, this gap climbs to $495, and the median wealth drops sharply to only $30.
Scaling up this example to the true wealth of nations, we can see how the median wealth provides a more accurate picture of the typical adult, especially in societies that are less equal.
Let’s see how this shakes out when ranking the world’s most affluent countries.
Ranking Top Contenders on Wealth per Capita
When it comes to wealth per capita, it’s clear that Australia and Switzerland lead the pack. In fact, the data shows that both nations top the lists for both mean and median wealth.
However, both nations also have the highest absolute household debt-to-GDP ratios in the world: in 2018, Switzerland’s levels reached nearly 129%, while Australia followed behind at 120%.
Here is a full ranking of the top 20 countries by mean and median wealth:
|Rank||Country||Mean wealth per adult||Country||Median wealth per adult|
|#1||🇨🇭 Switzerland||$530,244||🇦🇺 Australia||$191,453|
|#2||🇦🇺 Australia||$411,060||🇨🇭 Switzerland||$183,339|
|#3||🇺🇸 United States||$403,974||🇧🇪 Belgium||$163,429|
|#4||🇧🇪 Belgium||$313,045||🇳🇱 Netherlands||$114,935|
|#5||🇳🇴 Norway||$291,103||🇫🇷 France||$106,827|
|#6||🇳🇿 New Zealand||$289,798||🇨🇦 Canada||$106,342|
|#7||🇨🇦 Canada||$288,263||🇯🇵 Japan||$103,861|
|#8||🇩🇰 Denmark||$286,712||🇳🇿 New Zealand||$98,613|
|#9||🇸🇬 Singapore||$283,118||🇬🇧 United Kingdom||$97,169|
|#10||🇫🇷 France||$280,580||🇸🇬 Singapore||$91,656|
|#11||🇬🇧 United Kingdom||$279,048||🇪🇸 Spain||$87,188|
|#12||🇳🇱 Netherlands||$253,205||🇳🇴 Norway||$80,054|
|#13||🇸🇪 Sweden||$249,765||🇮🇹 Italy||$79,239|
|#14||🇭🇰 Hong Kong||$244,672||🇹🇼 Taiwan||$78,177|
|#15||🇮🇪 Ireland||$232,952||🇮🇪 Ireland||$72,473|
|#16||🇦🇹 Austria||$231,368||🇦🇹 Austria||$70,074|
|#17||🇯🇵 Japan||$227,235||🇰🇷 South Korea||$65,463|
|#18||🇮🇹 Italy||$217,727||🇺🇸 United States||$61,667|
|#19||🇩🇪 Germany||$214,893||🇩🇰 Denmark||$60,999|
|#20||🇹🇼 Taiwan||$212,375||🇭🇰 Hong Kong||$58,905|
The United States boasts 41% of the world’s millionaires, but it’s clear that the fruits of labor are enjoyed by only a select group—average wealth ($403,974) is almost seven times higher than median wealth ($61,667). This growing inequality gap knocks the country down to 18th place for median wealth.
The Nordic countries of Norway and Denmark can be found in the top ten for average wealth, but they drop to 12th place ($80,054) and 19th place ($60,999) respectively for median wealth. Despite this difference, these countries also provide a strong safety net—including access to healthcare and education—to more vulnerable citizens.
Finally, wealth in Japan is fairly evenly distributed among its large middle class, which lands it in seventh place on the median wealth list at $103,861. One possible reason is that the pay gap ratio between Japanese CEOs and the average worker is much lower than other developed nations.
With reducing income inequality as a priority for many countries around the world, how might this list change in coming years?
Footnote: All data estimates are using mid-2018 values, and reflected in US$.
Mapped: The Countries With the Highest Housing Bubble Risks
Which real estate markets have the highest risk of seeing a correction? These maps highlight housing bubble risks using data from four key indicators.
Mapped: Countries With the Highest Housing Bubble Risks
With a decade-long bull market and an ultra low interest rate environment globally, it’s not surprising to see capital flock to housing assets.
For many investors, real estate is considered as good of a place as any to park money—but what happens when things get a little too frothy, and the fundamentals begin to slip away?
In recent years, experts have been closely watching several indicators that point to rising bubble risks in some housing markets. Further, they are also warning that countries like Canada and New Zealand may be overdue for a correction in housing prices.
Key Housing Market Indicators
Earlier this week, Bloomberg published results from a new study by economist Niraj Shah as he aimed to build a housing bubble dashboard.
It tracks four key metrics:
- House Price-Rent Ratio
The ratio of house prices to the annualized cost of rent
- House Price-Income Ratio
The ratio of house prices to household income
- Real House Prices
Housing prices adjusted for inflation
- Credit to Households (% of GDP)
Amount of debt held by households, compared to total economic output
Ranking high on just one of these metrics is a warning sign for a country’s housing market, while ranking high on multiple measures signals even greater fragility.
Housing Bubble Risks, by Indicator
Let’s look at each bubble risk indicator, and see how they apply to the 22 countries covered by the housing dashboard.
It should be noted that most of the measures here are shown in an index form, using the year 2015 as a base year. In other words, the data is not representative of the ratio itself—but instead, how much the ratio has risen or fallen since 2015.
1. House Price-Rent Ratio
When looking at housing prices in comparison to rents, there are four countries that stand out.
New Zealand (196.8) and Canada (195.9) have seen ratios of housing prices to rents nearly double since 2015. Meanwhile, Sweden (172.8) and Norway (168.2) are not far behind.
Elsewhere in the world, this ratio is much more in line with expectations. For example, in Portugal—where house prices have skyrocketed over recent years—rents have increased at nearly the same rate, giving the country a 99.2 score.
2. House Price-Income Ratio
There are three familiar names at the top of this bubble indicator: New Zealand (156.8), Canada (155.3), and Sweden (145.7).
In places where rents are lagging housing prices, so are the levels of household income. For how long will people afford to buy increasingly expensive houses, if their incomes continue to lag?
3. Real House Prices
Real house prices have increased in all of the 22 markets, with the exception of Italy (95.5).
For this indicator, there are five markets that stand out as having fast-rising prices: Portugal (131.8), Ireland (127.6), Netherlands (121.9), Canada (124.1), and New Zealand (121.9). The latter two (Canada/New Zealand) have appeared near the top of all three bubble indicators, so far.
4. Credit to Households (% of GDP)
Exceedingly high debt ratios point to a strain on consumer finances – and when finances are strained, the chance of a default increases.
Switzerland (128.7%), Australia (120.3%), and Denmark (115.4%) top the list here with consumer debt far exceeding country GDP levels. However, Canada still makes an appearance in the top five with a debt-to-GDP ratio of 100.7%.
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