Why the Largest Economies Aren't the Richest per CapitaGDP per capita allows you to compare the prosperity of countries with different population sizes. For example, U.S. GDP was $15.66 trillion in 2012, making it seem the most prosperous country in the world. However, one reason for America's prosperity is because it's the third most populous country (after China and India). The U.S. must spread its wealth among 317 million people. That makes its GDP per capita only $49,800, the 12th most prosperous country per person.
The European Union (EU) is the world's most prosperous economy, at $15.7 trillion. It's an economy made up of 29 separate countries. Its GDP per capita was only $34,500 because it must spread the wealth among 504 million people. Japan's GDP per capita was slightly higher, at $36,200, because it can spread the benefits of its economy among only 127 million people. China's GDP per capita was only $9,100 because it has four times the number of people (1.3 billion) as does the U.S. Even though its GDP is $12.38 trillion, right below the U.S., it's got to spread the wealth among all those people, making it much poorer on a per capita basis. However, China's GDP per capita is growing quickly, up from only $4,900 five years ago. (Source: CIA World Factbook)
Ten Highest GDP per CapitaThe most prosperous country per person is Qatar - its GDP per capita is $102,800. The other countries in the Top Ten are:
- Liechtenstein -- $89,400
- Luxembourg -- $80,700
- Macau -- $74,900
- Bermuda -- $69,900
- Singapore -- $60,900
- Jersey -- $57,000
- Falkland Islands -- $55,400
- Norway -- $55,300
- Hong Kong -- $50,700
The Falkland Islands may become an oil-exporting nation, as surveys show reserves that could produce 500,000 barrels per day by 2016. The Islands also sell fishing licenses to foreign ships within its exclusive zone. The population of Falkland Islands is only 3,140. Macau rose to its position by becoming a gaming center for mainland China. It's really just a city/state, with a population of 550,000.
The other six countries have worked hard to become regional financial centers. Low tax rates and friendly business climates have induced global corporate headquarters to locate there. Financial services are also not labor intensive to develop, and so the wealth can be generated and distributed among a small population. In fact, Bermuda has less than 70,000 people living there.
The Ten Poorest Countries per CapitaThe world's poorest countries, according to GDP per capita, are:
- South Sudan -- $900
- Niger -- $900
- Malawi -- $900
- Central African Republic -- $800
- Eritrea -- $800
- Liberia -- $700
- Burundi -- $600
- Somalia -- $600
- Zimbabwe -- $500
- Democratic Republic of the Congo -- $400
How GDP per Capita Is MeasuredGDP per capita must be measured using purchasing power parity. This creates parity, or equality, between countries by comparing a basket of similar goods. It's a complicated formula that values a country's currency by what it can buy in that country, not just by its value as measured by its exchange rates. For example, Afghanistan's GDP is $19.8 billion, according to exchange rates. However, since the cost of living is so low, its GDP using purchasing power parity is higher, at $33.55 billion.
Since there are so many people, this production is spread out very thin -- only $1,000 per person. According to GDP per capita, Afghanistan ranks down at 218th in wealth, just barely missing being one of the ten poorest countries in the world. (Article updated March 26, 2013)