The Relationship Between Wealth and Happiness, by Country
Throughout history, the pursuit of happiness has been a preoccupation of humankind.
Of course, we humans are not just content with measuring our own happiness, but also our happiness in relation to the people around us—and even other people around the world. The annual World Happiness Report, which uses global survey data to report how people evaluate their own lives in more than 150 countries, helps us do just that.
The factors that contribute to happiness are as subjective and specific as the billions of humans they influence, but there are a few that have continued to resonate over time. Family. Love. Purpose. Wealth. The first three examples are tough to measure, but the latter can be analyzed in a data-driven way.
Does money really buy happiness? Let’s find out.
Wealth and Happiness
To crunch the numbers, we looked at data from Credit Suisse, which breaks down the average wealth per adult in various countries around the world.
The table below looks at 146 countries by their happiness score and wealth per adult:
|Country||Median Wealth per Adult (US$)||Happiness Score|
|🇳🇿 New Zealand||171,624||7.2|
|🇺🇸 United States||79,274||7.0|
|🇨🇿 Czech Republic||23,794||6.9|
|🇬🇧 United Kingdom||131,522||6.9|
|🇨🇷 Costa Rica||14,662||6.6|
|🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates||21,613||6.6|
|🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||15,495||6.5|
|🇸🇻 El Salvador||11,372||6.1|
|🇰🇷 South Korea||89,671||5.9|
|🇧🇦 Bosnia and Herzegovina||15,283||5.8|
|🇩🇴 Dominican Republic||22,701||5.7|
|🇭🇰 Hong Kong SAR||173,768||5.4|
|🇿🇦 South Africa||4,523||5.2|
|🇨🇮 Côte d'Ivoire||6,621||5.2|
|🇲🇰 North Macedonia||51,788||5.2|
|🇬🇲 The Gambia||658||5.2|
|🇧🇫 Burkina Faso||622||4.7|
|🇱🇰 Sri Lanka||8,802||4.4|
|🇨🇩 DR Congo||356||4.4|
|🇸🇱 Sierra Leone||370||3.6|
|🇸🇸 South Sudan||2,677||2.9|
While the results don’t definitively point to wealth contributing to happiness, there is a strong correlation across the board. Broadly speaking, the world’s poorest countries have the lowest happiness scores, and the richest report being the most happy.
Regional and Country-Level Observations
While many of the countries follow an obvious trend (more wealth = more happiness), there are nuances and outliers worth exploring.
- In Latin America, people self-report more happiness than the trend between wealth and happiness would predict.
- On the flip side, many nations in the Middle East report slightly less happiness than levels of wealth would predict.
- Political turmoil, an economic crisis, and the devastating explosion in Beirut have resulted in Lebanon scoring far worse than would be expected. Over the past decade, the country’s score has fallen by nearly two full points.
- Hong Kong has seen its happiness score sink for years now. Inequality, protests, instability, and now COVID-19 outbreaks have placed the region in an unusual zone on the chart: rich and unhappy.
Examining Inequality and Happiness
We’ve looked at the relationship between wealth and happiness between countries, but what about within countries?
The Gini Coefficient is a tool that allows us to do just that. This measure looks at income distribution across a population, and applies a score to that population. Simply put, a score of 0 would be “perfect equality”, and 1 would be “perfect inequality” (i.e. an individual or group of recipients is receiving the entire income distribution).
Combined with the same happiness scale as before, this is how countries shape up.
While there is no ironclad conclusion that can be derived from this dataset, there are big picture observations worth highlighting.
The 15 Countries With Highest Income Inequality
|Countries with High inequality||Happiness Score||Gini Score|
|🇿🇦 South Africa||5.2||0.63|
|🇨🇷 Costa Rica||6.6||0.49|
|🇧🇫 Burkina Faso||4.7||0.47|
First, countries with lower income inequality tend to also report more happiness. The 15 countries in this dataset with the highest inequality (shown above) have an average happiness score 1.3 lower than the 15 countries with the lowest inequality (shown below).
The 15 Countries With Lowest Income Inequality
|Countries with low inequality||Happy Score||Gini Score|
|🇨🇿 Czech Republic||6.9||25.3|
|🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates||6.6||26|
Next, interesting regional differences emerge.
Despite high income inequality, many Latin American countries report levels of happiness similar to many much-wealthier European nations.
The Bottom Line
People have been seeking understanding on happiness for millennia now, and it’s unlikely that slicing and dicing datasets will crack the code. Still though, much like the pursuit of happiness, the pursuit of understanding is human nature.
And, in more concrete terms, the more policymakers and the public understand the link between wealth and happiness, the more likely we can shape societies that give us a better chance at living a happy life.
Charted: Income Distributions in 16 Different Countries
This graphic shows income distributions in 16 different countries around the world, using data from the World Inequality Database.
Charting Income Distributions in 16 Different Countries
Throughout the 19th century, roughly 80% of the global population lived in what we’d now consider extreme poverty.
And as earnings and living conditions have improved dramatically since then, they haven’t done so evenly across the world. There are still vast income gaps, both between different countries and within them.
To highlight these global income discrepancies, this chart by Ruben Berge Mathisen shows income distributions around the world, using 2021 income data from the World Inequality Database (WID) on a per adult basis.
Global Income Distributions
This graphic shows the adult income distributions of 16 different countries in U.S. dollars, along with the world average.
On a global scale, adults making an annual income greater than $124,720 make it into the 99th percentile, meaning they make more than 99% of the worldwide population.
However, things change when you zoom in on specific countries. Here’s a look at all the countries on the list, and how much annual income is needed (at minimum) to be in the top 1%:
|Region||Country||Adult income (2021, 99th percentile)|
|North America||🇺🇸 United States||$336,953.19|
|North America||🇨🇦 Canada||$193,035.55|
|North America||🇲🇽 Mexico||$130,388.19|
|South America||🇧🇷 Brazil||$115,257.86|
|South America||🇨🇴 Colombia||$97,500.37|
|South America||🇦🇷 Argentina||$94,794.89|
|Europe||🇬🇧 United Kingdom||$162,547.56|
People in America’s top 1% make at least $336,953 in annual pre-tax income. That’s more than $100,000 above the 1% of next closest countries, Germany ($212,107) and Canada ($193,036).
On the flip side, adults in Ethiopia only need to make $24,297 to fall into the country’s 99th percentile. Ethiopia is one of the poorest nations in the world—according to estimates by the World Bank, about 27% of Ethiopia’s population is thought to be currently living under the poverty line.
Income Gaps Within Countries
It is also noticeable how much income varies within each country.
One example is Colombia, which has one of the largest wealth gaps of any country on the list. The 99th percentile in Colombia is making an annual income that’s 192x higher than its 10th percentile. In contrast, an income in the 99th percentile in the United States is 83x higher than the 10th percentile.
Colombia’s high level of income inequality stems from early childhood disadvantages, such as lack of access to education, which can limit opportunities later on in life.
Ranked: The World’s 100 Biggest Pension Funds
The world’s 100 largest pension funds are worth over $17 trillion in total. Which ones are the biggest, and where are they located?
Ranked: The World’s 100 Biggest Pension Funds
View the high-resolution of the infographic by clicking here.
Despite economic uncertainty, pension funds saw relatively strong growth in 2021. The world’s 100 biggest pension funds are worth over $17 trillion in total, an increase of 8.5% over the previous year.
This graphic uses data from the Thinking Ahead Institute to rank the world’s biggest pension funds, and where they are located.
What is a Pension Fund?
A pension fund is a fund that is designed to provide retirement income. This ranking covers four different types:
- Sovereign funds: Funds controlled directly by the state. This ranking only includes sovereign funds that are established by national authorities.
- Public sector funds: Funds that cover public sector workers, such as government employees and teachers, in provincial or state sponsored plans.
- Private independent funds: Funds controlled by private sector organizations that are authorized to manage pension plans from different employers.
- Corporate funds: Funds that cover workers in company sponsored pension plans.
Among the largest funds, public sector funds are the most common.
The Largest Pension Funds, Ranked
Here are the top 100 pension funds, organized from largest to smallest.
|1||Government Pension Investment Fund||🇯🇵 Japan||$1.7T|
|2||Government Pension Fund||🇳🇴 Norway||$1.4T|
|3||National Pension||🇰🇷 South Korea||$798.0B|
|4||Federal Retirement Thrift||🇺🇸 U.S.||$774.2B|
|6||California Public Employees||🇺🇸 U.S.||$496.8B|
|7||Canada Pension||🇨🇦 Canada||$426.7B|
|8||National Social Security||🇨🇳 China||$406.8B|
|9||Central Provident Fund||🇸🇬 Singapore||$375.0B|
|11||California State Teachers||🇺🇸 U.S.||$313.9B|
|12||New York State Common||🇺🇸 U.S.||$267.8B|
|13||New York City Retirement||🇺🇸 U.S.||$266.7B|
|14||Local Government Officials||🇯🇵 Japan||$248.6B|
|15||Employees Provident Fund||🇲🇾 Malaysia||$242.6B|
|16||Florida State Board||🇺🇸 U.S.||$213.8B|
|17||Texas Teachers||🇺🇸 U.S.||$196.7B|
|18||Ontario Teachers||🇨🇦 Canada||$191.1B|
|19||National Wealth Fund||🇷🇺 Russia||$180.7B|
|21||Labor Pension Fund||🇹🇼 Taiwan||$168.9B|
|22||Washington State Board||🇺🇸 U.S.||$161.5B|
|23||Public Institute for Social Security||🇰🇼 Kuwait||$160.0B|
|25||Wisconsin Investment Board||🇺🇸 U.S.||$147.9B|
|26||Future Fund||🇦🇺 Australia||$147.9B|
|28||Employees' Provident||🇮🇳 India||$145.0B|
|29||New York State Teachers||🇺🇸 U.S.||$144.4B|
|30||North Carolina||🇺🇸 U.S.||$137.1B|
|32||GEPF||🇿🇦 South Africa||$129.1B|
|33||California University||🇺🇸 U.S.||$125.3B|
|34||Bayerische Versorgungskammer||🇩🇪 Germany||$122.0B|
|35||Ohio Public Employees||🇺🇸 U.S.||$121.6B|
|37||Public Service Pension Plan||🇨🇦 Canada||$117.9B|
|38||National Federation of Mutual Aid||🇯🇵 Japan||$117.1B|
|39||Metaal/tech. Bedrijven||🇳🇱 Netherlands||$115.8B|
|41||Universities Superannuation||🇬🇧 UK||$111.2B|
|42||Virginia Retirement||🇺🇸 U.S.||$110.0B|
|43||Pension Fund Association||🇯🇵 Japan||$109.8B|
|44||Raytheon Technologies||🇺🇸 U.S.||$108.9B|
|45||Michigan Retirement||🇺🇸 U.S.||$108.0B|
|46||Aware Super||🇦🇺 Australia||$107.5B|
|47||New Jersey||🇺🇸 U.S.||$104.5B|
|48||Minnesota State Board||🇺🇸 U.S.||$102.9B|
|49||PFA Pension||🇩🇰 Denmark||$102.7B|
|51||Georgia Teachers||🇺🇸 U.S.||$100.9B|
|52||Oregon Public Employees||🇺🇸 U.S.||$100.4B|
|53||Massachusetts PRIM||🇺🇸 U.S.||$98.5B|
|55||General Motors||🇺🇸 U.S.||$96.1B|
|56||Ontario Municipal Employees||🇨🇦 Canada||$95.7B|
|57||Ohio State Teachers||🇺🇸 U.S.||$95.1B|
|58||AP Fonden 7||🇸🇪 Sweden||$94.4B|
|59||Healthcare of Ontario||🇨🇦 Canada||$90.5B|
|60||General Electric||🇺🇸 U.S.||$90.5B|
|61||Employees' Pension Fund||🇮🇳 India||$89.5B|
|64||United Nations Joint Staff||🇺🇸 U.S.||$86.2B|
|65||Lockheed Martin||🇺🇸 U.S.||$85.7B|
|66||Quebec Pension||🇨🇦 Canada||$81.4B|
|67||National Public Service||🇯🇵 Japan||$79.9B|
|68||Tennessee Consolidated||🇺🇸 U.S.||$79.0B|
|69||Royal Bank of Scotland Group||🇬🇧 UK||$78.3B|
|70||Bank of America||🇺🇸 U.S.||$76.3B|
|71||BT Group||🇬🇧 UK||$74.3B|
|75||Los Angeles County Employees||🇺🇸 U.S.||$72.7B|
|76||Quebec Government & Public||🇨🇦 Canada||$72.4B|
|78||Northrop Grumman||🇺🇸 U.S.||$72.0B|
|79||Pennsylvania School Employees||🇺🇸 U.S.||$70.4B|
|80||Lloyds Banking Group||🇬🇧 UK||$69.7B|
|82||Colorado Employees||🇺🇸 U.S.||$68.6B|
|83||Maryland State Retirement||🇺🇸 U.S.||$68.5B|
|84||AMF Pension||🇸🇪 Sweden||$67.3B|
|86||Wells Fargo||🇺🇸 U.S.||$66.0B|
|89||Illinois Teachers||🇺🇸 U.S.||$64.0B|
|90||J.P. Morgan Chase||🇺🇸 U.S.||$62.8B|
|91||Electricity Supply Pension||🇬🇧 UK||$62.5B|
|93||Nevada Public Employees||🇺🇸 U.S.||$58.8B|
|94||B.C. Municipal||🇨🇦 Canada||$58.7B|
|95||AP Fonden 4||🇸🇪 Sweden||$57.7B|
|96||Missouri Schools & Education||🇺🇸 U.S.||$57.0B|
|97||AP Fonden 3||🇸🇪 Sweden||$55.9B|
|98||Social Insurance Funds||🇻🇳 Vietnam||$55.7B|
|99||Organization for Workers||🇯🇵 Japan||$55.6B|
|100||Illinois Municipal||🇺🇸 U.S.||$54.9B|
U.S. fund data are as of Sep. 30, 2021, and non-U.S. fund data are as of Dec. 31, 2021. There are some exceptions as noted in the graphic footnotes.
Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF) is the largest in the ranking for the 21st year in a row. For a time, the fund was the largest holder of domestic stocks in Japan, though the Bank of Japan has since taken that title. Given its enormous size, investors closely follow the GPIF’s actions. For instance, the fund made headlines for deciding to start investing in startups, because the move could entice other pensions to make similar investments.
America is home to 47 funds on the list, including the largest public sector fund: the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), overseen by the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board. Because of its large financial influence, both political parties have been accused of using it as a political tool. Democrats have pushed to divest assets in fossil fuel companies, while Republicans have proposed blocking investment in Chinese-owned companies.
Russia’s National Wealth Fund comes in at number 19 on the list. The fund is designed to support the public pension system and help balance the budget as needed. With Russia’s economy facing difficulties amid the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the government has also used it as a rainy day fund. For instance, Russia has set aside $23 billion from the fund to replace foreign aircraft with domestic models, because Western sanctions have made it difficult to source replacement parts for foreign planes.
The Future of Pension Funds
The biggest pension funds can have a large influence in the market because of their size. Of course, they are also responsible for providing retirement income to millions of people. Pension funds face a variety of challenges in order to reach their goals:
- Geopolitical conflict creates volatility and uncertainty
- High inflation and low interest rates (relative to long-term averages) limit return potential
- Aging populations mean more withdrawals and less fund contributions
Some pension funds are turning to alternative assets, such as private equity, in pursuit of more diversification and higher returns. Of course, these investments can also carry more risk.
Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, number 18 on the list, invested $95 million in the now-bankrupt cryptocurrency exchange FTX. The plan made the investment through its venture growth platform, to “gain small-scale exposure to an emerging area in the financial technology sector.”
In this case, the investment’s failure is expected to have a minimal impact given it only made up 0.05% of the plan’s net assets. However, it does highlight the challenges pension funds face to generate sufficient returns in a variety of macroeconomic environments.
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