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These are most prosperous countries in the world – and how South Africa compares



South Africa is ranked as the 75th most prosperous country in the world, hampered by poor health, living conditions, education levels and a low sense of safety and security.

This is according to the Legatum Institute’s annual prosperity index, which ranks 167 countries across the globe in terms of income (GDP, economy, wealth) and well-being (quality of life, governance, sentiment).

In compiling the index, the Legatum Institute looked at over 100 different variables across 12 significant pillars, including:

  • Safety and Security – measures the degree to which war, conflict, and crime have destabilised the security of individuals.
  • Personal Freedom – measures progress towards fundamental legal rights and individual liberties.
  • Governance – measures the extent to which there are checks and restraints on power and whether governments operate effectively and without corruption.
  • Social Capital – measures the strength of personal and social relationships, social norms, civic participation in a country, and social tolerance.
  • Investment Environment – measures the extent to which investments are adequately protected and are readily accessible.
  • Enterprise Conditions – measures the degree to which regulations enable businesses to start, compete, and expand.
  • Infrastructure and Market Access – measures the quality of the infrastructure that enables trade and distortions in the market for goods and services.
  • Economic Quality – measures how well an economy is equipped to generate wealth sustainably.
  • Living Conditions – measures the degree to which a reasonable quality of life is experienced by all, including material resources, shelter, essential services, and connectivity.
  • Health – measures the extent to which people are healthy and have access to the necessary services to maintain good health, including health outcomes, health systems, illness and risk factors, and mortality rates.
  • Education – measures enrolment, outcomes, and quality across four stages of education and the adult population’s skills.
  • The Natural Environment – measures the aspects of the physical environment that directly affect people in their daily lives and changes that might impact the prosperity of future generations.

According to the index, Denmark tops the list as the most prosperous country in the world, continually moving up the rankings since 2011.

Denmark ranked 1st for social capital, 2nd for living conditions and personal freedom, and 3rd for governance.

Sweden is 2nd overall, ranking 1st in natural environment, 3rd in living conditions, and 4th in personal freedom and social capital.

Norway was 3rd in the ranking, coming in 1st place for personal freedom, 2nd in governance, and 3rd in safety and security and social capital.

Finland followed in 4th place overall, while Switzerland ranked 5th – firmly cementing the dominance of Nordic nations regarding prosperity worldwide.

The table below shows the top 20 most prosperous countries, including South Africa, ranked 75th.

South Africa 

Ranking 75th overall, South Africa has deteriorated in prosperity, dropping six ranks in the past decade.

South Africa’s highest rank in the report’s sub-indices is personal freedom (38th) and social capital (40th); however, education and living conditions (102nd), health (129th), safety and security (136th), and natural environment drag on the country’s position.

The highest-ranked countries in the sub-Saharan Africa region fill out most of the middle and bottom reaches of the index, with plenty of countries slipping in the rankings.

The Legatum Institute noted that while the sub-Saharan Africa region has improved living conditions, better healthcare, and more access to education, it is further behind the rest of the world.

It remains the worst-performing region in 8 out of 12 pillars, and 30 countries in the bottom 40 are from this region, added the Legatum Institute.

Compared with other African countries, South Africa ranks 3rd on the continent, firmly behind Mauritius (47th overall) and Seychelles (51st).

Another stain on South Africa’s performance is that it was one of the countries that experienced an increase in female unemployment post-Covid-19.

With almost half of the women (47%) out of the labour force, South Africa has the third-highest female unemployment rate in the world, the institute said.

The table below shows the top 20 least prosperous countries in the world.


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