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Ranked: The Most Innovative Economies in the World

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The Most Innovative Economies in the World

Ranked: The Most Innovative Economies in the World

Innovation was again a front-of-mind theme in Davos at the World Economic Forum’s annual assembly of political and business leaders in 2020.

The global conversation centered around the ability of countries to innovate in the face of changing times. An economy’s response to megatrends, such as tech breakthroughs and the risks of climate change, can dictate its long-term success.

Today’s chart identifies the world’s top 20 most innovative economies, based on the annual index created by Bloomberg. We also delve into how the top 10 spots have evolved over time.

How Are Innovative Economies Measured?

Each year, the index assesses over 200 economies across seven weighted metrics.

  1. R&D Intensity
    Annual research and development spending, as a % of an economy’s gross domestic product (GDP).
  2. Patent Activity
    The number of annual patent and grant filings, and the 3-year average growth of filings abroad and filings growth, as a share of the world’s total patent growth.
  3. Tertiary Efficiency
    The total enrollment in higher education, the share of labor force with advanced education levels, and the share of STEM graduates and in the labor force.
  4. Manufacturing Value-added
    Manufacturing output levels—contributing to exports—as a % of GDP, and per capita.
  5. Productivity
    GDP and gross national income (GNI) in the working age population, and the 3-year improvement.
  6. High-tech Density
    The volume of domestic, high-tech public companies as a share of the world’s total companies. Examples of high-tech companies include: aerospace and defense, biotech, internet services, and renewable energy.
  7. Researcher Concentration
    Professionals (including postgraduate PhD students) engaged in R&D across the population.

Based on available data of these measures, only 105 countries made the final cut for this year’s edition of the index—below are the 60 most innovative economies scored out of 100 points, and the highlights from that list.

The 10 Most Innovative Economies

For the first time in years, Germany clinched the top spot for the most innovative economy, ending South Korea’s winning streak. The European nation scores in the top five for its manufacturing value-added, high-tech density, and patent activity metrics.

However, even winners have some room for improvement. As the global economy sways ever more in the direction of services over manufacturing, Germany could improve its rate of higher education to achieve an even better score on the index.

Ranking third overall, Singapore leads the charge for tertiary efficiency, with almost 85% gross enrollment in higher education as of 2017. In contrast, Germany’s enrollment stood at around 70% in the same year.

Which other countries sit in the top 10?

RankCountryScoreYoY Rank ChangeBest-performing Metric
#1🇩🇪 Germany88.21+1High-tech density, Patent activity (tied)
#2🇰🇷 South Korea88.16-1R&D intensity
#3🇸🇬 Singapore87.01+3Tertiary efficiency (Ranked #1)
#4🇨🇭 Switzerland85.670R&D intensity, Researcher concentration (tied)
#5🇸🇪 Sweden85.50+2R&D intensity
#6🇮🇱 Israel85.03-1R&D intensity (Ranked #1)
#7🇫🇮 Finland84.00-4Productivity, Researcher concentration (tied)
#8🇩🇰 Denmark83.22+3Researcher concentration (Ranked #1)
#9🇺🇸 United States83.17-1High-tech density, Patent activity
(Tied, Ranked #1 for both)
#10🇫🇷 France82.750High-tech density

A global hub for innovation, South Korea is still not to be ignored. With one of the most complex economies around, it leads in exports of communications technology and cars. It’s also at the forefront of 5G, being the first country to roll it out—so it’s no surprise that South Korea spends big on research, relative to its GDP.

R&D spending determines life or death for South Korean companies… It’s about widening whatever lead South Korea has—or else China will catch up.

—Chang Suk-Gwon, University professor in Seoul

The United States ranks in first place for both patent activity, and high-tech density—with the highest share of domestic high-tech public companies in the world. With the “Big Five” tech giants all headquartered here, it’s easy to see their impact on a global scale.

Over the past five years, the top 10 players in this index have shuffled around, but remained quite consistent. But one particular economy may well upend the future leaderboard.

The Most Innovative Economies (#11-20)

In 2020, the #11-#20 ranked innovative countries show an interesting mix.

RankCountryScoreYoY Ranking ChangeBest-performing metric
#11🇦🇹 Austria82.40+1R&D intensity
#12🇯🇵 Japan82.31-3R&D intensity, Manufacturing value-added (tied)
#13🇳🇱 Netherlands81.28+2High-tech density
#14🇧🇪 Belgium79.93-1R&D intensity, Productivity (tied)
#15🇨🇳 China78.80+1Patent activity (Ranked #2)
#16🇮🇪 Ireland78.65-2Manufacturing value-added, Productivity
(Tied, Ranked #1 for both)
#17🇳🇴 Norway76.930Productivity
#18🇬🇧 United Kingdom76.030Tertiary efficiency
#19🇮🇹 Italy75.76+2High-tech density
#20🇦🇺 Australia74.13-1Productivity

China’s steady rise (up from 21st place in 2017) could be because it scores second worldwide for patent activity. This comes from the aggressive 6,000 patents filed since 2015 by the nation’s own tech giants. The patents cover breakthrough technologies from AI and blockchain, to autonomous driving and even regenerative medicine.

Ireland comes in first place on both manufacturing value-added and productivity metrics. In fact, for every hour worked, employed Irish people add $99.50 to national GDP.

The Full List

Below is the full list of all 60 innovative economies highlighted in the 2020 index.

RankCountryScoreYoY Ranking Change
#1Germany88.21+1
#2South Korea88.16-1
#3Singapore87.01+3
#4Switzerland85.670
#5Sweden85.50+2
#6Israel85.03-1
#7Finland84.00-4
#8Denmark83.22+3
#9U.S.83.17-1
#10France82.750
#11Austria82.40+1
#12Japan82.31-3
#13Netherlands81.28+2
#14Belgium79.93-1
#15China78.80+1
#16Ireland78.65-2
#17Norway76.930
#18UK76.030
#19Italy75.76+2
#20Australia74.13-1
#21Slovenia73.93+10
#22Canada73.11-2
#23Iceland71.560
#24Czech Republic70.00+1
#25Poland69.98-3
#26Russia68.63+1
#27Malaysia68.28-1
#28Hungary68.24+4
#29New Zealand68.08-5
#30Greece66.30+5
#31Luxembourg65.41-3
#32Romania65.25-3
#33Spain65.11-3
#34Portugal65.080
#35Turkey63.84-2
#36Estonia62.790
#37Latvia62.03+5
#38Lithuania61.97-1
#39Hong Kong61.70-1
#40Thailand60.360
#41Slovakia59.36-2
#42Bulgaria56.59-1
#43Croatia55.00+1
#44UAE54.31+2
#45Argentina53.78+5
#46Brazil53.65-1
#47Malta53.48-4
#48Cyprus51.560
#49Algeria51.24NA
#50South Africa51.15+1
#51Chile49.58+7
#52Tunisia49.560
#53Saudi Arabia49.54+3
#54India49.330
#55Qatar48.81+2
#56Ukraine48.24-3
#57Vietnam47.64+3
#58Egypt46.29NA
#59Kazakhstan46.10NA
#60Macao46.09NA

Highlights from the rest of the list include:

  • Slovenia improved the most by 10 places (to the #21 spot) thanks to its stronger patent activity.
  • New Zealand slid by 10 places to the 29th spot, falling for the third consecutive year.
  • Last but not least, four countries or jurisdictions made their debut onto the index in 2020: Algeria, Egypt, Kazakhstan, and Macao.

It’s clear that many countries are continuously pushing the envelope in order to maintain their competitiveness within the global economy—and constant innovation can provide a better life for their present and future populations.

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Chart of the Week

The Road to Recovery: Which Economies are Reopening?

We look at mobility rates as well as COVID-19 recovery rates for 41 economies, to see which countries are reopening for business.

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The Road to Recovery: Which Economies are Reopening?

COVID-19 has brought the world to a halt—but after months of uncertainty, it seems that the situation is slowly taking a turn for the better.

Today’s chart measures the extent to which 41 major economies are reopening, by plotting two metrics for each country: the mobility rate and the COVID-19 recovery rate:

  1. Mobility Index
    This refers to the change in activity around workplaces, subtracting activity around residences, measured as a percentage deviation from the baseline.

  2. COVID-19 Recovery Rate
    The number of recovered cases in a country is measured as the percentage of total cases.

Data for the first measure comes from Google’s COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports, which relies on aggregated, anonymous location history data from individuals. Note that China does not show up in the graphic as the government bans Google services.

COVID-19 recovery rates rely on values from CoronaTracker, using aggregated information from multiple global and governmental databases such as WHO and CDC.

Reopening Economies, One Step at a Time

In general, the higher the mobility rate, the more economic activity this signifies. In most cases, mobility rate also correlates with a higher rate of recovered people in the population.

Here’s how these countries fare based on the above metrics.

CountryMobility RateRecovery RateTotal CasesTotal Recovered
Argentina-56%31.40%14,7024,617
Australia-41%92.03%7,1506,580
Austria-100%91.93%16,62815,286
Belgium-105%26.92%57,84915,572
Brazil-48%44.02%438,812193,181
Canada-67%52.91%88,51246,831
Chile-110%41.58%86,94336,150
Colombia-73%26.28%25,3666,665
Czechia-29%70.68%9,1406,460
Denmark-93%88.43%11,51210,180
Finland-93%81.57%6,7435,500
France-100%36.08%186,23867,191
Germany-99%89.45%182,452163,200
Greece-32%47.28%2,9061,374
Hong Kong-10%97.00%1,0671,035
Hungary-49%52.31%3,8161,996
India-65%42.88%165,38670,920
Indonesia-77%25.43%24,5386,240
Ireland-79%88.92%24,84122,089
Israel-31%87.00%16,87214,679
Italy-52%64.99%231,732150,604
Japan-33%84.80%16,68314,147
Malaysia-53%80.86%7,6296,169
Mexico-69%69.70%78,02354,383
Netherlands-97%0.01%45,9503
New Zealand-21%98.01%1,5041,474
Norway-100%91.87%8,4117,727
Philippines-87%23.08%15,5883,598
Poland-36%46.27%22,82510,560
Portugal-65%58.99%31,59618,637
Singapore-105%55.02%33,24918,294
South Africa-74%52.44%27,40314,370
South Korea-4%91.15%11,34410,340
Spain-67%69.11%284,986196,958
Sweden-93%13.91%35,7274,971
Switzerland-101%91.90%30,79628,300
Taiwan4%95.24%441420
Thailand-36%96.08%3,0652,945
U.S.-56%28.20%1,768,346498,720
United Kingdom-82%0.05%269,127135
Vietnam15%85.02%327278

Mobility data as of May 21, 2020 (Latest available). COVID-19 case data as of May 29, 2020.

In the main scatterplot visualization, we’ve taken things a step further, assigning these countries into four distinct quadrants:

1. High Mobility, High Recovery

High recovery rates are resulting in lifted restrictions for countries in this quadrant, and people are steadily returning to work.

New Zealand has earned praise for its early and effective pandemic response, allowing it to curtail the total number of cases. This has resulted in a 98% recovery rate, the highest of all countries. After almost 50 days of lockdown, the government is recommending a flexible four-day work week to boost the economy back up.

2. High Mobility, Low Recovery

Despite low COVID-19 related recoveries, mobility rates of countries in this quadrant remain higher than average. Some countries have loosened lockdown measures, while others did not have strict measures in place to begin with.

Brazil is an interesting case study to consider here. After deferring lockdown decisions to state and local levels, the country is now averaging the highest number of daily cases out of any country. On May 28th, for example, the country had 24,151 new cases and 1,067 new deaths.

3. Low Mobility, High Recovery

Countries in this quadrant are playing it safe, and holding off on reopening their economies until the population has fully recovered.

Italy, the once-epicenter for the crisis in Europe is understandably wary of cases rising back up to critical levels. As a result, it has opted to keep its activity to a minimum to try and boost the 65% recovery rate, even as it slowly emerges from over 10 weeks of lockdown.

4. Low Mobility, Low Recovery

Last but not least, people in these countries are cautiously remaining indoors as their governments continue to work on crisis response.

With a low 0.05% recovery rate, the United Kingdom has no immediate plans to reopen. A two-week lag time in reporting discharged patients from NHS services may also be contributing to this low number. Although new cases are leveling off, the country has the highest coronavirus-caused death toll across Europe.

The U.S. also sits in this quadrant with over 1.7 million cases and counting. Recently, some states have opted to ease restrictions on social and business activity, which could potentially result in case numbers climbing back up.

Over in Sweden, a controversial herd immunity strategy meant that the country continued business as usual amid the rest of Europe’s heightened regulations. Sweden’s COVID-19 recovery rate sits at only 13.9%, and the country’s -93% mobility rate implies that people have been taking their own precautions.

COVID-19’s Impact on the Future

It’s important to note that a “second wave” of new cases could upend plans to reopen economies. As countries reckon with these competing risks of health and economic activity, there is no clear answer around the right path to take.

COVID-19 is a catalyst for an entirely different future, but interestingly, it’s one that has been in the works for a while.

Without being melodramatic, COVID-19 is like the last nail in the coffin of globalization…The 2008-2009 crisis gave globalization a big hit, as did Brexit, as did the U.S.-China trade war, but COVID is taking it to a new level.

Carmen Reinhart, incoming Chief Economist for the World Bank

Will there be any chance of returning to “normal” as we know it?

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Chart of the Week

Visualizing the Countries Most Reliant on Tourism

With international travel grinding to a halt, here are the economies that have the most to lose from a lack of tourism.

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Visualizing the Countries Most Reliant on Tourism

Without a steady influx of tourism revenue, many countries could face severe economic damage.

As the global travel and tourism industry stalls, the spillover effects to global employment are wide-reaching. A total of 330 million jobs are supported by this industry around the world, and it contributes 10%, or $8.9 trillion to global GDP each year.

Today’s infographic uses data from the World Travel & Tourism Council, and it highlights the countries that depend the most on the travel and tourism industry according to employment—quantifying the scale that the industry contributes to the health of the global economy.

Ground Control

Worldwide, 44 countries rely on the travel and tourism industry for more than 15% of their total share of employment. Unsurprisingly, many of the countries suffering the most economic damage are island nations.

At the same time, data reveals the extent to which certain larger nations rely on tourism. In New Zealand, for example, 479,000 jobs are generated by the travel and tourism industry, while in Cambodia tourism contributes to 2.4 million jobs.

RankCountryT&T Share of Jobs (2019)T&T Jobs (2019)Population
1Antigua & Barbuda91%33,80097,900
2Aruba84%35,000106,800
3St. Lucia78%62,900183,600
4US Virgin Islands69%28,800104,400
5Macau66%253,700649,300
6Maldives60%155,600540,500
7St. Kitts & Nevis59%14,10053,200
8British Virgin Islands54%5,50030,200
9Bahamas52%103,900393,200
10Anguilla51%3,80015,000
11St. Vincent & the Grenadines45%19,900110,900
12Seychelles44%20,60098,300
13Grenada43%24,300112,500
14Former Netherlands Antilles41%25,70026,200
15Belize39%64,800397,600
16Cape Verde39%98,300556,000
17Dominica39%13,60072,000
18Vanuatu36%29,000307,100
19Barbados33%44,900287,400
20Cayman Islands33%12,30065,700
21Jamaica33%406,1002,961,000
22Montenegro33%66,900628,100
23Georgia28%488,2003,989,000
24Cambodia26%2,371,10016,719,000
25Fiji26%90,700896,400
26Croatia25%383,4004,105,000
27Philippines24%10,237,700109,600,000
28Sao Tome and Principe23%14,500219,200
29Bermuda23%7,80062,300
30Albania22%254,3002,880,000
31Iceland22%44,100341,200
32Greece22%846,20010,420,000
33Thailand21%8,054,60069,800,000
34Malta21%52,800441,500
35New Zealand20%479,4004,822,000
36Lebanon19%434,2006,825,000
37Mauritius19%104,2001,272,000
38Portugal19%902,40010,197,000
39Kiribati18%6,600119,000
40Gambia18%129,6002,417,000
41Jordan18%254,70010,200,000
42Dominican Republic17%810,80010,848,000
43Uruguay16%262,5003,474,000
44Namibia15%114,6002,541,000

Croatia, another tourist hotspot, is hoping to reopen in time for peak season—the country generated tourism revenues of $13B in 2019. With a population of over 4 million, travel and tourism contributes to 25% of its workforce.

How the 20 Largest Economies Stack Up

Tourist-centric countries remain the hardest hit from global travel bans, but the world’s biggest economies are also feeling the impact.

In Spain, tourism ranks as the third highest contributor to its economy. If lockdowns remain in place until September, it is projected to lose $68 billion (€62 billion) in revenues.

RankCountryTravel and Tourism, Contribution to GDP
1Mexico15.5%
2Spain14.3%
3Italy13.0%
4Turkey11.3%
5China11.3%
6Australia10.8%
7Saudi Arabia9.5%
8Germany9.1%
9United Kingdom9.0%
10U.S.8.6%
11France8.5%
12Brazil7.7%
13Switzerland7.6%
14Japan7.0%
15India6.8%
16Canada6.3%
17Netherlands5.7%
18Indonesia5.7%
19Russia5.0%
20South Korea2.8%

On the other hand, South Korea is impacted the least: just 2.8% of its GDP is reliant on tourism.

Travel, Interrupted

Which countries earn the most from the travel and tourism industry in absolute dollar terms?

Topping the list was the U.S., with tourism contributing over $1.8 trillion to its economy, or 8.6% of its GDP in 2019. The U.S. remains a global epicenter for COVID-19 cases, and details remain unconfirmed if the country will reopen to visitors before summer.

Travel and tourism contribution to GDP in absolute terms

Meanwhile, the contribution of travel and tourism to China’s economy has more than doubled over the last decade, approaching $1.6 trillion. To help bolster economic activity, China and South Korea have eased restrictions by establishing a travel corridor.

As countries slowly reopen, other travel bubbles are beginning to make headway. For example, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have eased travel restrictions by creating an established travel zone. Australia and New Zealand have a similar arrangement on the horizon. These travel bubbles allow citizens from each country to travel within a given zone.

Of course, COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on employment and global economic activity with inconceivable outcomes. When the dust finally settles, could global tourism face a reckoning?

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