#1 in Best Countries Overall
Germanic-speaking tribes in northern Europe date to antiquity, but the modern German state took shape in the 19th century. Defeats in the two world wars of the 20th century left the country divided, and reunification occurred in 1990 following the collapse of the East German communist state. Germany is a parliamentary democracy. The legacy of Nazism expresses itself today in the form of tough laws addressing hate speech and denial of the Holocaust.
Germany employs a social market economy – open-market capitalism that also carries certain social service guarantees. Its economy is one of the world’s largest and Germany is one of the globe’s leading importers and exporters. Services, which include industries such as telecommunications, health care and tourism, contribute the greatest amount to the country’s economy. Industry and agriculture are other significant economic sectors.
Germany possesses a highly skilled, affluent workforce. The country’s population is aging, however, raising questions about the high level of spending for social services. The overwhelming majority of citizens are ethnic German, with Turks and other Europeans representing significant minority populations. The country is one of the world’s most popular migration destinations, and the size of the foreign-born population in Germany has grown substantially in the 21st century.
Culturally, Germany has produced some of the world’s leading figures in the natural and social sciences, as well as the arts. The land that gave birth to the modern printing press, Ludwig van Beethoven and Immanuel Kant has strong traditions in literature, music and philosophy. Folk festivals remain popular in modern-day Germany, the most notable being the annual Oktoberfest.
Germany belongs to major international organizations, including the United Nations, the European Union, Group of 20, NATO and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
$3.7 trillion GDP 80.9 million POPULATION $45,888 GDP PER CAPITA, PPP
#2 in Best Countries Overall
Canadians pride themselves in encouraging all of their citizens to honor their own cultures. In 1971, Canada adopted a national policy of multiculturalism, which celebrates the country’s diversity. Canada has a long list of accomplished writers and artists. Céline Dion, Sarah McLachlan and Joni Mitchell are just a few of the Canadians who have made an impression on modern music.
Technically, Canada is a constitutional monarchy with theU.K. monarch as the head of state. The royal leader is represented locally by a largely ceremonial governor-general appointed by the Canadian prime minister. The country follows the British style of parliamentary democracy.
Canada is a high-tech industrial society with a high standard of living. Trade agreements in the 1980s and 1990s dramatically bolstered trade with the U.S., and now the two counties are each other’s largest trading partner. While the service sector is Canada’s biggest economic driver, the country is a significant exporter of energy, food and minerals. Canada ranks third in the world in proven oil reserves and is the world’s fifth-largest oil producer.
Canada faces domestic challenges related to the concerns of indigenous people and those in the predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec. While constitutional guarantees allow the province wide-ranging cultural and linguistic autonomy, movements for complete independence come in waves.
Canada is a member of the United Nations, through which it has participated in many peacekeeping missions. It is also a member of NATO and the Commonwealth of Nations.
$1.8 trillion GDP 35.5 million POPULATION $44,843 GDP PER CAPITA, PPP
#3 in Best Countries Overall
The capital city, London, is a major international financial center and one of the most visited cities in the world. The banking and tourism industries are parts of a larger service sector that powers much of the nation’s economic growth. The industrial revolution began in the U.K., and manufacturing – led by the automobile and aerospace industries – is a declining though still significant part of the nation’s economy.
The United Kingdom has attracted immigrants for centuries. Beginning in the second half of the 20th century, the sources of immigration began to diversify, coming from South Asia, Africa and the Caribbean as well as from Central and Eastern Europe. Immigration has become a major focus of public debate in the 21st century.
The nation has a long history of major contributions to the arts and sciences. William Shakespeare is regarded as one of the greatest writers in the history of English literature. British scientists discovered gravity, hydrogen and penicillin and developed theories in aerodynamics and natural evolution. The nation continues to be at thescientific and technological fore. Stephen Hawking has produced groundbreaking work in cosmology and computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web.
The United Kingdom is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, and is a member of major international organizations including the European Union, the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, NATO and the Group of 20.
$2.7 trillion GDP 64.5 million POPULATION $39,511 GDP PER CAPITA, PPP
#4 in Best Countries Overall
The American colonies declared independence from the British Empire in 1776 and were recognized as a new nation in 1783. The country nearly split in two during a civil war in the mid-1800s, but regained its footing in the 20th century, during which time it was on the winning side of both world wars.
The U.S. is a constitution-based federal republiccomprised of 50 states. The U.S. economy is the world’s largest in terms of gross domestic product, and also the most technologically powerful. The country’s most significant exports are computers and electrical machinery, vehicles, chemical products, food, live animals and military equipment. The U.S. also has the world’s largest coal reserves.
The U.S. is culturally and racially diverse, and was shaped by large waves of immigration from Europe and beyond. American literature, art and music reflect the richheritage of the county’s people. The U.S. is the birthplace of jazz, and Louis Armstrong, an African American, is one of the country’s most recognized and admired musicians. Prize-winning Jewish writers Saul Bellow and Philip Roth are some of the best known literary figures in the U.S. The media industry in the U.S. has a global audience, with its television shows, music videos and films distributed worldwide.
Despite being the foremost global power, the U.S. still faces domestic challenges, including racial tensions, income inequality and an increasingly polarized electorate. While national security is a concern, so too, is the debt incurred from wars meant to ensure it. The U.S. leads the developed world in deaths due to firearms.
The U.S. often takes a leading role in international organizations, and was a founding force behind institutions such as the United Nations, NATO and the World Bank.
$16.8 trillion GDP 318.9 million POPULATION $54,597 GDP PER CAPITA, PPP
#5 in Best Countries Overall
Sweden operates under a model similar to those of other Nordic nations: heavily capitalistic with a large percent of spending going toward public service. Once well above the global average, tax rates have decreased, and an advanced infrastructure and transportation network assist with equal wealth distribution. Health care, as well as a college education, are free, and its people boast one of the longest life expectancies in the world. Almost all of Sweden’s trash is recycled.
Swedes are some of the world’s most generous people, donating about 1 percent of gross national product to humanitarian aid programs each year. The society continues to diversify as a growing number of refugees, currently accounting for 10 percent of the population, are welcomed into Swedish borders.
As a parliamentary democracy, representatives elected to parliament, called the Riksdag, lead the nation with a monarch as a ceremonious head of state. Sweden joined the European Union in 1995, but declined to convert to the eurozone currency after a public vote in 2003. However, its export-dependent economy is tightly integrated with the European Union. Both took a tumble with the recent decline of the euro, but Sweden is seeing steady recovery and seeking to expand trade markets for its timber, hydropower and iron ore.
Sweden is an Enhanced Opportunities Partner of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It is also a member of the United Nations, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the World Trade Organization, among others.
$580 billion GDP 9.7 million POPULATION $45,986 GDP PER CAPITA, PPP
#6 in Best Countries Overall
Australia has a parliamentary democracy government similar to the United Kingdom. While it separates its federal government into “three arms” – parliament, executive and judiciary – the executive answers to the parliament. In 1986 the nation ended all constitutional ties to the United Kingdom, although Queen Elizabeth II remains the ceremonial head of state.
Since the late 18th century, Australia has been influenced by British, Celtic and U.S. culture. In recent decades, however, immigration from non-English-speaking nations – primarily from Asia – has altered the nation’s demographic profile and influenced its popular culture.
Australia is considered a wealthy nation with a market-based economy that has a comparatively high gross domestic product and per capita income. Its economy is driven by the service sector and the export of commodities.
The nation has a high rate of participation in sporting activities and boasts a comparatively high life expectancy for both females and males. Its major cities routinely score well in global livability surveys.
Australians remain particularly concerned about environmental issues, according to survey and government data. The country has ratified the Kyoto Protocol, the United Nations treaty that calls on nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Nevertheless, carbon dioxide emissions per capita are comparatively high among nations.
Australia is a member of major international and regional organizations, including the United Nations, the Group of 20, the World Trade Organization, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Commonwealth of Nations and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.
$1.6 trillion GDP 23.5 million POPULATION $46,433 GDP PER CAPITA, PPP
#7 in Best Countries Overall
The country can trace its political unification to the late fourth and early fifth centuries B.C. Civilization flourished in the late eighth to the late 12th century, followed by centuries of military rule. The country was isolated from the early 1600s to the mid 19th century, at which point its ports opened up to the West. Japan had grand territorial ambitions in the 1900s, invading several countries, only to be defeated in World War II.
Japan has a parliamentary government with a constitutional monarchy. The emperor still holds his title as a symbol of national unity, but elected politicians hold actual decision-making power.
With the third-largest global economy, Japan has largely bounced back from the manufacturing disruption caused by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster. The country is among the world’s largest producers of motor vehicles, electronic equipment and steel. The service sector makes up the highest percentage of the economy in terms of gross domestic product and employment.
Japan is known worldwide for its traditional arts, including tea ceremonies, calligraphy and flower arranging. The country has a legacy of distinctive gardens, sculpture and poetry. Japan is home to more than a dozen UNESCO World Heritage sites and is the birthplace of sushi, one of its most famous culinary exports. The country has developed many forms of martial arts. Its most famous traditional sport is sumo wrestling, which can trace its origins to the 8th century.
Japan has ongoing territorial disputes with China, Russiaand South Korea and has strained relationships with some neighbors due to actions it took during World War II. The country also grapples with the economic consequences of having the world’s oldest population and declining birth rates.
Japan is a member of several international organizations, including the United Nations, the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank.
$4.9 trillion GDP 127.1 million POPULATION $37,390 GDP PER CAPITA, PPP
#8 in Best Countries Overall
The World Bank classifies France as a wealthy, high-income nation. French citizens look to the federal government to guarantee certain social services, such aseducation, health care and pensions for retirement.
The French economy is one of the world’s largest and is a mixture of private enterprise and government involvement. Tourism is a major contributor to the economy – France generally tops lists of most visited countries. Other major economic sectors include industry, agriculture, energy and defense. The country is one of the world’s top exporters of weapons.
The French people have traditionally been a mix of Celtic, Germanic and Latin ethnicities. Waves of immigration in the 20th and 21st centuries, however, are altering the country’s population. Immigrants typically come from northern Africa and other parts of Europe.
France faces various domestic challenges, most notably how it confronts terrorism in the wake of the November 2015 attacks in Paris that claimed 130 lives and a deadly attack on a satirical newspaper earlier that year. Prior to the November attacks, polls had shown public attitudes toward Islam and immigrants worsening. The country also faces slowed economic growth and growing unemployment. Joblessness is especially hitting the country’s youth and young adults.
France has a rich cultural heritage. French literature began in the Middle Ages, and the country has a long history in fine arts, music and dance. Cinema occupies an important place in the country’s cultural life. French cuisine is popular around the world, as is the wine produced in the country.
France is a founding member of the United Nations and has a permanent seat on its Security Council. Other major groups it belongs to include the European Union, World Trade Organization, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and NATO.
$2.8 trillion GDP 66.2 million POPULATION $40,375 GDP PER CAPITA, PPP
#9 in Best Countries Overall
Situated along the fringes of Western Europe, the Netherlands is a coastal lowland freckled with windmills characteristic of its development around the water. Three major European rivers – the Rhine, Meuse and Schelde – run through neighbors Germany and Belgium into the nation’s busy ports.
The Kingdom of the Netherlands emerged in 1815 after years of Spanish and later French occupation. In 2010, a collection of island territories in the Caribbean known as the Dutch Antilles were disbanded, but Aruba, Curacao and Sint Maarten remain constituent countries within the Kingdom.
Known as Dutch, the people of the Netherlands have formed a tolerant society. In 2001, the country became the first to legalize same-sex marriage, and national stances on drugs, prostitution, euthanasia and abortion are liberal. Holland also boasts the highest concentration of museums in the world. It was the birthplace of Rembrandt and Van Gogh, as well as the microscope, telescope and thermometer.
More than 1,000 bridges and 20,000 miles of bike pathsconnect the densely populated nation, with most citizens concentrated in a grouping of cities along the coast, known as the Randstad. Much of the country is underwater, and the 40 million people that touch down in capital city Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport each year land more than a dozen feet below sea level.
The seat of the government is located about 40 miles southwest of the capital in The Hague. The Dutch operate under a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament, within which there are two main political parties. In 2012, leaders of the two parties signed a cooperative coalition agreement, focused on improving health care, the housing market, the labor market, foreign policy and the energy sector.
Known for its tulips, this high-income, developed nation is one of the world’s leading exporters of agriculture, an industry that has become mostly mechanized. An open-market policy and prime transportation location help the Netherlands maintain a trade surplus, but the economy continues to recover from an expensive stimulus program designed to help it bounce back after the economic downturn in 2009.
The Netherlands is active in United Nations peacekeeping efforts and headquarters The International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court in The Hague. It was a founding member of NATO and the modern-day European Union, of which it has been quite vocally supportive.
$854 billion GDP 16.9 million POPULATION $47,355 GDP PER CAPITA, PPP
#10 in Best Countries Overall
The Kingdom of Denmark emerged in the 10th century and includes two North Atlantic island nations, the Faroe Islands and Greenland. Along with Sweden and Norway, it forms Scandinavia, a cultural region in Northern Europe.
Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital, also serves as the country’s cultural and industrial hub. With a population of more than 1 million, Copenhagen is home to notable institutions such as the Copenhagen Stock Exchange. Copenhagen also serves as a hub connecting Northern Europe with the rest of the world, with the largest international airport in Scandinavia, an active port, a subway system and the Oresund Bridge, connecting the city with Malmo, Sweden.
Since 1849, Denmark has operated under a constitutional monarchy. Queen Margrethe II is the current ceremonial head of state and Lars Lokke Rasmussen is prime minister. The Folketing is Denmark’s supreme legislative body; its 175 members are elected by the Danish people. The Danish government is perceived as highly stable and very transparent.
Through redistributionist and progressive taxation, Denmark employs a universal health care system in which citizens receive mostly free medical care. Higher education is also free. Notable universities in Denmarkinclude: University of Copenhagen, Aarhus University and the Technical University of Denmark. Unsurprisingly, Denmark’s highly progressive government and societal structure creates incredible social mobility.
Denmark has several leading industries including food processing, tourism and the production of iron, steel and machinery. Its main exports are processed foods, agricultural and industrial machinery, pharmaceuticals and furniture.
Denmark’s economy is based on the flexicurity model, which combines a flexible labor market with a policy for the unemployed. This flexicurity model allows forbusinesses to establish inexpensively and quickly, as there is scarce government oversight regarding matters such as terminations or work hours. The Danish corporate tax rate is 24.5 percent, but its income tax rate is among the highest in the world.
A founding member of NATO, Denmark is a member of many other international organizations including the European Union, United Nations, the Nordic Council, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
$336 billion GDP 5.6 million POPULATION $44,343 GDP PER CAPITA, PPP