The Most Miserable Countries in the World
Some people believe that happiness comes from within. In the world of economics, however, happiness may be more linked to quantitative factors such as inflation, lending rates, employment levels, and growth in gross domestic product (GDP).
This week’s chart uses data from Steve Hanke of the Cato Institute, and it visualizes the 2019 Misery Index rankings, across 95 countries that report this data on a consistent basis.
The index uses four key economic variables to rank and score countries:
- Lending rate
- Unemployment rate
- GDP per capita growth
Here are the Misery Index scores for all 95 countries:
|Rank||Country||Contributing Factor||Misery Index Score|
|#4||🇧🇷 Brazil||Lending Rates||53.6|
|#7||🇿🇦 South Africa||Unemployment||42.0|
|#8||🇧🇦 Bosnia and Herzegovina||Unemployment||38.2|
|#9||🇪🇬 Egypt||Lending Rates||36.8|
|#10||🇺🇦 Ukraine||Lending Rates||34.3|
|#23||Costa Rica||Lending Rates||21.7|
|#26||Dominican Republic||Lending Rates & Unemployment||20.3|
|#29||Papua New Guinea||Lending Rates||19.2|
|#35||Sri Lanka||Lending Rates||16.0|
|#40||Trinidad & Tobago||Lending Rates||14.7|
|#41||New Zealand||Lending Rates||14.4|
|#62||United Kingdom||Lending Rates||9.6|
|#68||United States||Lending Rates||8.7|
|#71||Hong Kong||Lending Rates||8.3|
|#87||Czech Republic||Lending Rates||5.0|
To calculate each Misery Index score, a simple formula is used: GDP per capita growth is subtracted from the sum of unemployment, inflation, and bank lending rates.
Which of these factors are driving scores in some of the more “miserable” countries? Which countries rank low on the list, and why?
The Highest Misery Index Scores
Two Latin American countries, Venezuela and Argentina, rank near the top of Hanke’s index.
1. Vexation in Venezuela
Venezuela holds the title of the most “miserable” country in the world for the fourth consecutive year in a row. According to the United Nations, four million Venezuelans have left the country since its economic crisis began in 2014.
Turmoil in Venezuela has been further fueled by skyrocketing hyperinflation. Citizens struggle to afford basic items such as food, toiletries, and medicine. The Cafe Con Leche Index was created specifically to monitor the rapidly changing inflation rates in Venezuela.
Not only does Venezuela have the highest score in the Misery Index, but its score has also seen a dramatic increase over the past year as the crisis has accelerated.
2. Argentina’s History of Volatility
Argentina is the second most “miserable” country, which comes as no surprise given the country’s history of economic crises.
The 2018 Argentine monetary crisis caused a severe devaluation of the peso. The downfall forced the President, Mauricio Macri, to request a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
To put things in perspective, this is the 22nd lending arrangement between Argentina and the IMF. Only six countries have had more commitments to the international organization, including Haiti (27) and Colombia (25).
The Lowest Misery Index Scores
The two countries with the lowest scores in the index have one thing in common: extremely low rates of unemployment.
1. Why Thailand is the Land of Smiles
Thailand takes the prize as the least “miserable” country in the world on the index. The country’s unemployment rate has been remarkably low for years, ranging between 0.4% and 1.2% since 2011. This is the result of the country’s unique structural factors. The “informal” sectors—such as street vendors or taxi drivers—absorb people who become unemployed in the “formal” sector.
Public infrastructure investments by the Thai government continue to attract both private domestic and foreign investments, bolstering the country’s GDP alongside tourism and exports.
2. Hungary’s Prime Minister Sets the Score
Hungary is the second least “miserable” country in the world according to the index.
In 2010, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán implemented a workfare program which diverted menial tasks to thousands of job seekers. Over the same period that the program ran, the national unemployment rate fell from 11.4% to 3.8%.
Orbán won a controversial fourth term in 2018, possibly in part due to promises to protect the country’s sovereignty against the European Union. Despite accusations of populism and even authoritarian tendencies, the Prime Minister still commands a strong following in Hungary.
Can a Shorter Workweek Make People Happier?
The idea of a shorter workweek sounds enticing to most, but would it actually lead to a happier population? We look at the data so far.
Can A Shorter Workweek Make People Happier?
For many people, the concept of a shorter workweek is enticing. After all, it can be difficult to find enough time for the things we love.
Is it reasonable then, in our quest for happiness, to begin working less? Advocates of a shorter workweek would agree, but these policies have yet to be widely-adopted.
What Happens When We Work Too Much?
The unhealthy side effects of working long hours are well established. In extreme cases, however, symptoms can extend beyond the usual stress and fatigue.
For example, the American Heart Association found that people under the age of 50 had a higher risk of stroke when working over 10 hours a day for a decade or more. Another study, conducted across 14 countries, concluded that people who worked long hours were 12% more likely to become excessive drinkers.
If working longer days is so harmful to our well-being, what happens if we work fewer hours instead?
Comparing the Numbers
The tables below list the happiest countries as well as the unhappiest countries in the OECD; happiness scores range from 0 to 10, with a 10 representing the best life possible.
Based on the data, there appears to be some degree of correlation between a person’s happiness and the amount of hours they work.
Here’s how the five happiest countries stack up:
|Country||Happiness Score (0-10)||5-Yr Average Annual|
|Difference in Hours Worked
from OECD Average (1,682 hrs)
|🇫🇮 Finland||7.769||1,559 hrs||-123 hrs|
|🇩🇰 Denmark||7.600||1,406 hrs||-276 hrs|
|🇳🇴 Norway||7.554||1,422 hrs||-260 hrs|
|🇮🇸 Iceland||7.494||1,491 hrs||-191 hrs|
|🇳🇱 Netherlands||7.488||1,432 hrs||-250 hrs|
The five happiest countries each work over 100 hours less than the OECD average. Compare this to the five least happiest countries:
|Country||Happiness Score (0-10)||5-Yr Average Annual |
|Difference in Hours Worked
from OECD Average (1,682 hrs)
|🇬🇷 Greece||5.287||1,946 hrs||+264 hrs|
|🇹🇷 Turkey||5.373||1,832 hrs||+150 hrs|
|🇵🇹 Portugal||5.693||1,722 hrs||+40 hrs|
|🇭🇺 Hungary||5.758||1,749 hrs||+67 hrs|
|🇯🇵 Japan||5.886||1,710 hrs*||+28 hrs|
*OECD data includes full- and part-time workers. While this affects the entire data set, Japan’s high share of part-time workers (37% as of 2017) suggests it is particularly vulnerable to underestimation.
Coincidentally, all five of the least happiest countries work more hours than the OECD average, up to over 264 hours in the case of Greece.
Happiness is multifaceted, though, and we should avoid drawing conclusions from a single variable. For instance, the World Happiness Report 2019 calculates happiness scores based on eight distinct metrics:
|#1||Positive Affect||The average of 3 measures: happiness, laughter, and enjoyment|
|#2||Negative Affect||The average of 3 measures: worry, sadness, and anger|
|#3||Social Support||Having someone to count on in times of trouble|
|#4||Freedom||The ability to make life choices|
|#5||Corruption||The perception of corruption throughout business and government|
|#6||Generosity||Based on survey results about charity donations|
|#7||GDP per Capita (Log Scale)||Economic output per person|
|#8||Healthy Life Expectancy||Years spent in good health|
With these in mind, we can make a few additional observations.
Four of the five happiest OECD countries are located in the Nordics, a region known for low corruption rates and robust social safety nets. On the other end of the scale, economic hardship is a recurring theme among the OECD’s least happiest countries. The falling Turkish lira and Greece’s debt crisis are two significant examples.
To properly measure the happiness-boosting potential of a shortened workweek, it seems we need to isolate its effects.
Challenging the Status Quo
Employers are now experimenting with shorter work schedules to see if happier employees are in fact better employees.
Case 1: Successful Trial
Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand-based estate planning firm, trialed a four-day workweek for two months with no changes to compensation.
The trial was hailed as a success. Employee stress levels fell by 7 percentage points while overall life satisfaction rose by 5 percentage points. Perhaps most impressive is the fact that productivity remained the same.
Employees designed a number of innovations and initiatives to work in a more productive and efficient manner.
– Helen Delaney, University of Auckland
Following the trial, the firm’s founder expressed interest in implementing the four-day workweek on a permanent basis.
Case 2: Successful Trial with Trade-offs
Filimundus, a Sweden-based software studio, trialed a six-hour workday in 2014. Staff reception was positive, and the company has since adopted it permanently.
There were trade-offs, however. While staff enjoyed more time for their private lives, productivity across different departments saw mixed results.
We did see some decrease in production for some staff, mostly our artists, but an increase in production for our programmers. So money-wise, in costs, it evened out.
– Linus Feldt, CEO
Interestingly, the studio also trialed a seven-hour workday, and saw no positive effects.
Case 3: An Unsustainable Solution
Public healthcare workers in Gothenburg, Sweden, trialed a six-hour workday for two years. Similar to the first case, compensation was unchanged.
While the trial achieved good results—staff experienced lower stress levels and patients received a higher level of care—the policy was unsustainable.
It’s far too expensive to carry out a general shortening of working hours within a reasonable time frame.
– Daniel Bernmar
17 additional staff were hired to compensate for the shorter workdays, increasing the local government’s payroll by $738,000. The city council did note, however, that lower unemployment costs offset this increase by approximately 10%.
Picking Up Momentum
These experiments are garnering attention from around the world.
Even Japan, a country known for its “overtime culture”, is getting in on the action. Microsoft offices in the East Asian country tested a four-day workweek in August 2019, and reported happier staff, as well as an impressive 40% boost in productivity.
While the results of these early experiments are indeed promising, they’ve exposed the nuances that exist between industries and job types, and the need for further trials. One thing is certain though—shorter workweek policies should not be interpreted as a “one size fits all” solution for happier lives.
Ranked: The Social Mobility of 82 Countries
Ranked: The Social Mobility of 82 Countries
It’s an unfortunate truth that a person’s opportunities can be partially tethered to their socioeconomic status at birth.
Although winning or losing the “birth lottery” will continue to shape the lives of generations to come, climbing the socioeconomic ladder is possible. However, it boils down to what opportunities people are afforded in the country they live in.
Today’s chart pulls data from the inaugural Global Social Mobility report produced by the World Economic Forum. The report ranks 82 countries according to their performance across five key pillars: healthcare, education, technology access, working conditions, and social protection.
While most countries aim to create a level playing field, which places best live up to this lofty and challenging mission?
The Spectrum of Social Mobility
Social mobility refers to the movement of individuals either up or down the socioeconomic ladder relative to their current standing, such as a low-income family moving up to become a part of the middle class.
Countries with high levels of social mobility exhibit lower levels of income inequality and provide more equally shared opportunities for its citizens across each of the five pillars.
Here is how all 82 countries rank, according to the report:
There are a number of countries that set an example for social mobility that others can follow.
The Mobility Medal Winners
All of the countries in the top 10 are European, but it is the Nordic countries that sit comfortably at the top of the ranks.
Denmark holds the title for the most socially mobile country in the world, boasting an index score of 85.2. If a person is born into a low-income family in Denmark, the WEF estimates it would take two generations to reach a median income. In contrast, someone in Brazil or South Africa would take nine generations at the current pace of growth.
As one of the few non-European countries in the top 20, Canada also performs well across the majority of pillars, but similarly to Denmark, it could improve in the area of lifelong learning which includes providing support for the unemployed and teaching digital skills.
The Least Socially Mobile Countries
Developing country Côte d’Ivoire sits at the bottom of the ranks, with an index score of just 34.5. As a nation once ravaged by internal conflict and turbulent economic shifts, the resulting poverty rate remains high at 46.3%.
While the government has made improvements to its basic social services, the country falls behind on categories like access to education and fair wages, and retains the highest gender inequality rate in the world.
Despite a significant decrease in the percentage of people living in absolute poverty, India ranks low on the index in 76th place. Structural reform is required across all pillars if India is to increase its score, especially in relation to fair wages and education.
Why Invest in Social Mobility?
According to the report, most economies are far from providing fair conditions for their citizens to thrive, with the greatest challenges ranging from lack of social protection and low wages to poor lifelong learning systems.
Countries that fail to invest in the key pillars of social mobility could experience damaging consequences for governments and citizens alike:
- Precarity (the unpredictability of living without secure and well-paid employment)
- Perceived loss of identity and dignity
- Weakening social fabric
- Eroding trust in institutions
- Disenchantment with political processes
Aside from the social returns, the economic impact of investing in the right blend of social mobility pillars could be substantial.
Calculating the True Cost
The report dives into the opportunity cost of low social mobility and finds that if each country increased its score by just 10 index points, it could result in an extra 4.41% of cumulative GDP growth for the global economy by 2030—equal to $5.1 trillion.
China alone could add $1 trillion of GDP growth by 2030 if a 10 point increase is achieved:
Although social mobility can act as an economic lever, many countries are struggling to provide the optimal conditions for their citizens to thrive. For those countries, globalization and technology may continue to exacerbate income inequality.
If countries are unable to create new social mobility pathways towards more inclusive economies, they risk being stuck in a cycle where inequality remains entrenched—and history continues to repeats itself.
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