Chart: The Relationship Between Money and Happiness
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The Relationship Between Money and Happiness

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Charting the Relationship Between Money and Happiness

Charting the Relationship Between Money and Happiness

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Can money buy you happiness?

It’s a longstanding question that has many different answers, depending on who you ask.

Today’s chart approaches this fundamental question from a data-driven perspective, and it provides one potential solution: money does buy some happiness, but only to a limited extent.

Money and Happiness

First, a thinking exercise.

Let’s say you have two hypothetical people: one of them is named Beff Jezos and he’s a billionaire, and the other is named Jill Smith and she has a more average net worth. Who do you think would be happiest if their wealth was instantly doubled?

Beff might be happy that he’s got more in the bank, but materially his life is unlikely to change much – after all, he’s a billionaire. On the flipside, Jill also has more in the bank and is likely able to use those additional resources to provide better opportunities for her family, get out of debt, or improve her work-life balance.

These resources translate to real changes for Jill, potentially increasing her level of satisfaction with life.

Just like these hypotheticals, the data tells a similar story when we look at countries.

The Data-Driven Approach

Today’s chart looks at the relationship between GDP per capita (PPP) and the self-reported levels of happiness of each country. Sources for data are the World Bank and the World Happiness Report 2017.

According to the numbers, the relationship between money and happiness is strong early on for countries. Then later, when material elements of Maslow’s hierarchy are met, the relationship gets harder to predict.

In general, this means that as a country’s wealth increases from $10k to $20k per person, it will likely slide up the happiness scale as well. For a double from $30k to $60k, the relationship still holds – but it tends to have far more variance. This variance is where things get interesting.

Outlier Regions

Some of the most obvious outliers can be found in Latin America and the Middle East:

Latin America vs. Middle East

In Latin America, people self-report that they are more satisfied than the trend between money and happiness would predict.

Costa Rica stands out in particular here, with a GDP per capita of $15,400 and a 7.14 rating on the Cantril Ladder (which is a measure of happiness). Whether it’s the country’s rugged coastlines or the local culture that does the trick, Costa Rica has higher happiness ratings than the U.S., Belgium, or Germany – all countries with far higher levels of wealth.

In the Middle East, the situation is mostly reversed. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Turkey, and the U.A.E. are all on the other side of the trend line.

Outlier Countries

Within regions, there is even plenty of variance.

We just mentioned the Middle East as a place where the wealth-happiness continuum doesn’t seem to hold up as well as it does in other places in the world.

Interestingly, in Qatar, which is actually the wealthiest country in the world on a per capita basis ($127k), things are even more out of whack. Qatar only scores a 6.37 on the Cantril Ladder, making it a big exception even within the context of the already-outlying Middle East.

Nearby Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., and Oman are all poorer than Qatar per capita, yet they are happier places. Oman rates a 6.85 on the satisfaction scale, with less than one-third the wealth per capita of Qatar.

There are other outlier jurisdictions on the list as well: Thailand, Uzbekistan, and Pakistan are all significantly happier than the trend line (or their regional location) would project. Meanwhile, places like Hong Kong, Ireland, Singapore, and Luxembourg are less happy than wealth would predict.

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Money

Animated Chart: Remittance Flows and GDP Impact By Country

Which countries rely on remittance flows the most? This animation shows the amount of remittance income that countries received in 2022.

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Remittance transfers received by countries in 2022

Visualizing Remittance Flows and GDP Impact By Country

The COVID-19 pandemic slowed down the flow of global immigration by 27%. Alongside it, travel restrictions, job losses, and mounting health concerns meant that many migrant workers couldn’t send money in the form of remittances back to families in their home countries.

This flow of remittances received by countries dropped by 1.5% to $711 billion globally in 2020. But over the next two years, things quickly turned back around.

As visa approvals restarted and international borders opened, so did international migration and global remittance flows. In 2021, total global remittances were estimated at $781 billion and have further risen to $794 billion in 2022.

In these images, Richie Lionell uses the World Bank’s KNOMAD data to visualize this increasing flow of money across international borders in 176 countries.

Why Do Remittances Matter?

Remittances contribute to the economy of nations worldwide, especially low and middle-income countries (LMICs). 

They have been shown to help alleviate poverty, improve nutrition, and even increase school enrollment rates in these nations. Research has also found that these inflows of income can help recipient households become resilient, especially in the face of disasters.

At the same time, it’s worth noting that these transfers aren’t a silver bullet for recipient nations. In fact, some research shows that overreliance on remittances can cause a vicious cycle that doesn’t translate to consistent economic growth over time.

Countries Receiving the Highest Remittances

For the past 15 years, India has consistently topped the chart of the largest remittance beneficiaries.

RankRemittance Inflows by Country2022 (USD)
1India$100,000M
2Mexico$60,300M
3China$51,000M
4Philippines$38,000M
5Egypt, Arab Rep.$32,337M
6Pakistan$29,000M
7France$28,520M
8Bangladesh$21,000M
9Nigeria$20,945M
10Vietnam$19,000M
11Ukraine$18,421M
12Guatemala$18,112M
13Germany$18,000M
14Belgium$13,500M
15Uzbekistan$13,500M
16Morocco$11,401M
17Romania$11,064M
18Dominican Republic$9,920M
19Indonesia$9,700M
20Thailand$9,500M
21Colombia$9,133M
22Italy$9,000M
23Nepal$8,500M
24Spain$8,500M
25Honduras$8,284M
26Poland$8,000M
27Korea, Rep.$7,877M
28El Salvador$7,620M
29Lebanon$6,841M
30Israel$6,143M
31United States$6,097M
32Russian Federation$6,000M
33Serbia$5,400M
34Brazil$5,045M
35Japan$5,000M
36Portugal$4,694M
37Ghana$4,664M
38Jordan$4,646M
39Czech Republic$4,539M
40Haiti$4,532M
41Ecuador$4,468M
42Georgia$4,100M
43Kenya$4,091M
44Croatia$3,701M
45Peru$3,699M
46Sri Lanka$3,600M
47West Bank and Gaza$3,495M
48Jamaica$3,419M
49Armenia$3,350M
50Tajikistan$3,200M
51Nicaragua$3,126M
52Kyrgyz Republic$3,050M
53Senegal$2,711M
54Austria$2,700M
55Switzerland$2,631M
56Sweden$2,565M
57United Kingdom$2,501M
58Hungary$2,404M
59Bosnia and Herzegovina$2,400M
60Slovak Republic$2,300M
61Moldova$2,170M
62Azerbaijan$2,150M
63Tunisia$2,085M
64Zimbabwe$2,047M
65Luxembourg$2,000M
66Netherlands$2,000M
67Myanmar$1,900M
68Algeria$1,829M
69Albania$1,800M
70Somalia$1735M
71Congo, Dem. Rep.$1,664M
72Malaysia$1,620M
73Kosovo$1,600M
74Denmark$1,517M
75Latvia$1,500M
76Bolivia$1,403M
77Belarus$1,350M
78Cambodia$1,250M
79Bermuda$1,200M
80South Sudan$1,187M
81Uganda$1,131M
82Mali$1,094M
83South Africa$1,019M
84Sudan$1,013M
85Argentina$966M
86Montenegro$920M
87Finland$880M
88Bulgaria$850M
89Slovenia$800M
90Australia$737M
91Madagascar$718M
92Turkey$710M
93Canada$700M
94Lithuania$700M
95Togo$668M
96Greece$665M
97Costa Rica$654M
98Estonia$626M
99Qatar$624M
100Iraq$624M
101Gambia, The$615M
102Tanzania$609M
103Norway$600M
104Panama$596M
105Burkina Faso$589M
106Hong Kong SAR, China$571M
107Paraguay$554M
108Mozambique$545M
109Niger$534M
110Cyprus$527M
111Lesotho$527M
112Mongolia$500M
113Rwanda$469M
114Fiji$450M
115North Macedonia$450M
116Guyana$400M
117Cabo Verde$375M
118Kazakhstan$370M
119Cameroon$365M
120Cote d'Ivoire$360M
121Liberia$351M
122Afghanistan$350M
123Ethiopia$327M
124Samoa$280M
125Mauritius$279M
126Saudi Arabia$273M
127Malta$271M
128Malawi$267M
129Zambia$260M
130Tonga$250M
131Comoros$250M
132Ireland$249M
133Suriname$221M
134Benin$209M
135Lao PDR$200M
136Timor-Leste$185M
137Sierra Leone$179M
138Guinea-Bissau$178M
139Trinidad and Tobago$172M
140Mauritania$168M
141Iceland$164M
142Eswatini$148M
143Belize$142M
144Curacao$131M
145Uruguay$127M
146Chile$78M
147Vanuatu$75M
148St. Vincent and the Grenadines$70M
149Grenada$69M
150Botswana$56M
151St. Lucia$55M
152Bhutan$55M
153Djibouti$55M
154Dominica$52M
155Burundi$50M
156Aruba$44M
157Namibia$44M
158Guinea$41M
159Solomon Islands$40M
160Oman$39M
161Antigua and Barbuda$35M
162St. Kitts and Nevis$33M
163Marshall Islands$30M
164Kuwait$27M
165New Zealand$25M
166Macao SAR, China$17M
167Angola$16M
168Kiribati$15M
169Cayman Islands$14M
170Sao Tome and Principe$10M
171Seychelles$9M
172Maldives$5M
173Gabon$4M
174Palau$2M
175Papua New Guinea$2M
176Turkmenistan$1M
TotalWorld$794,059M

With an estimated $100 billion in remittances received, India is said to have reached an all-time high in 2022.

This increasing flow of remittances can be partially attributed to migrant Indians switching to high-skilled jobs in high-income countries—including the U.S., the UK, and Singapore—from low-skilled and low-paying jobs in Gulf countries.

Mexico and China round out the top three remittance-receiving nations, with estimated inbound transfers of $60 billion and $51 billion respectively in 2022.

Impact on National GDP

While India tops the list of countries benefitting from remittances, its $100 billion received amounts to only 2.9% of its 2022 GDP.

Meanwhile, low and middle-income countries around the world heavily rely on this source of income to boost their economies in a more substantive way. In 2022, for example, remittances accounted for over 15% of the GDP of 25 countries.

RankRemittance Inflows by Country% of GDP (2022)
1Tonga49.9%
2Lebanon37.8%
3Samoa33.7%
4Tajikistan32.0%
5Kyrgyz Republic31.2%
6Gambia, The28.3%
7Honduras27.1%
8South Sudan24.8%
9El Salvador23.8%
10Haiti22.4%
11Nepal21.7%
12Jamaica21.2%
13Lesotho21.0%
14Somalia20.6%
15Comoros20.1%
16Nicaragua19.9%
17Guatemala19.8%
18Armenia18.9%
19West Bank and Gaza18.5%
20Cabo Verde18.2%
21Kosovo17.3%
22Uzbekistan17.0%
23Georgia16.2%
24Moldova15.4%
25Montenegro15.0%
26Ukraine13.8%
27Marshall Islands11.0%
28Guinea-Bissau10.9%
29Bosnia and Herzegovina10.1%
30Albania9.8%
31Senegal9.8%
32Jordan9.6%
33Philippines9.4%
34Fiji9.2%
35Liberia9.0%
36Dominican Republic8.8%
37Dominica8.6%
38Serbia8.6%
39Togo7.9%
40Morocco7.9%
41Pakistan7.7%
42Vanuatu7.6%
43Timor-Leste7.5%
44Suriname7.3%
45St. Vincent and the Grenadines7.3%
46Kiribati7.2%
47Egypt, Arab Rep.6.8%
48Ghana6.1%
49Mali5.9%
50Grenada5.8%
51Zimbabwe5.3%
52Croatia5.3%
53Belize5.3%
54Sri Lanka4.8%
55Madagascar4.7%
56Vietnam4.5%
57Bangladesh4.5%
58Tunisia4.5%
59Cambodia4.4%
60Sierra Leone4.3%
61Mexico4.2%
62Nigeria4.1%
63Rwanda3.8%
64Ecuador3.8%
65Latvia3.6%
66Romania3.6%
67Niger3.6%
68Kenya3.5%
69Bolivia3.2%
70Burkina Faso3.2%
71Myanmar3.1%
72North Macedonia3.1%
73Mongolia3.1%
74Eswatini3.1%
75Azerbaijan3.0%
76Mozambique3.0%
77St. Kitts and Nevis2.9%
78India2.8%
79St. Lucia2.7%
80Guyana2.6%
81Colombia2.6%
82Congo, Dem. Rep.2.6%
83Solomon Islands2.4%
84Luxembourg2.4%
85Mauritius2.4%
86Sudan2.3%
87Uganda2.3%
88Malawi2.3%
89Belgium2.2%
90Sao Tome and Principe2.0%
91Afghanistan2.0%
92Slovak Republic2.0%
93Antigua and Barbuda2.0%
94Bhutan2.0%
95Cyprus1.9%
96Portugal1.8%
97Thailand1.7%
98Belarus1.6%
99Mauritania1.6%
100Estonia1.6%
101Malta1.5%
102Peru1.5%
103Czech Republic1.5%
104Djibouti1.4%
105Burundi1.3%
106Paraguay1.3%
107Hungary1.3%
108Slovenia1.2%
109Aruba1.2%
110Lao PDR1.2%
111Benin1.1%
112Israel1.1%
113Poland1.1%
114Lithuania1.0%
115France1.0%
116Bulgaria0.9%
117Algeria0.9%
118Zambia0.9%
119Costa Rica0.9%
120Palau0.8%
121Panama0.8%
122Cameroon0.8%
123Tanzania0.7%
124Indonesia0.7%
125Spain0.6%
126Iceland0.5%
127Trinidad and Tobago0.5%
128Austria0.5%
129Cote d'Ivoire0.5%
130Seychelles0.4%
131Korea, Rep.0.4%
132Italy0.4%
133Germany0.4%
134Sweden0.4%
135Denmark0.3%
136Malaysia0.3%
137Namibia0.3%
138Switzerland0.3%
139Finland0.3%
140Botswana0.3%
141Greece0.2%
142Ethiopia0.2%
143Qatar0.2%
144Russian Federation0.2%
145Brazil0.2%
146China0.2%
147South Africa0.2%
148Iraq0.2%
149Guinea0.2%
150Netherlands0.2%
151Uruguay0.1%
152Kazakhstan0.1%
153Hong Kong SAR, China0.1%
154Argentina0.1%
155Norway0.1%
156Japan0.1%
157Maldives0.08%
158Turkey0.08%
159United Kingdom0.07%
160Macao SAR, China0.07%
161Ireland0.05%
162Australia0.04%
163Oman0.04%
164Saudi Arabia0.03%
165Chile0.02%
166United States0.02%
167Gabon0.02%
168Kuwait0.01%
169Angola0.01%
170New Zealand0.01%
171Papua New Guinea0.01%
172Turkmenistan0.001%

Known primarily as a tourist destination, the Polynesian country of Tonga banks on remittance inflows to support its economy. In 2022, the country’s incoming remittance flows were equal to almost 50% of its GDP.

Next on this list is Lebanon. The country received $6.8 billion in remittances in 2022, estimated to equal almost 38% of its GDP and making it a key support to the nation’s shrinking economy.

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