Australia is second best ‐ almost but not quite the greatest place in which to live, according to the latest United Nations human development index. Norway pips us by a flared nostril. Australia scores 0.93 on a scale of 0 to 1, where 1 is the highest score possible. At 0.94, Norway’s margin over Australia is close to invisible.

Not so for the poorest scorer in the UN’s ranking of 187 nations. The Democratic Republic of the Congo gets a score of 0.29. The UN says the average length of schooling there is 3.5 years. Life expectancy is 49 years.

The human development index is made up of life expectancy, years of schooling and gross national income per capita. Australia scores spectacularly well on life expectancy with 82 years, second only to Japan, which has 83.

The only thing Norway has that we have much less of is income. At $US47,600 per head, Norway leaves Australia’s $US34,400 per head in the shade. If it weren’t for the income measure, Australia would be ranked the most developed country in the world. The UN gives Australia first place in its measure of ”non‐income human development”.

A good many of the nations surveyed by the UN make more per head than Norway, but it finds them poor models of development. The citizens of Qatar earn $US107,700 per head, but stay in school an average of seven years. Even Singapore, where they earn $US52,600 per head, can boast only 10 years at school.

Many of the countries Australia are used to comparing ourselves with perform poorly. The US has a lower life expectancy. Britain has an average stay in school of nine years.

We are among the most satisfied citizens on earth, typically giving a figure of 7.5 when asked to rate our satisfaction with life on a scale of 0 to 10. Denmark, Canada and Norway are more satisfied, but in the US and Britain they are more miserable, with scores of 7.2 and 7.0.

The high‐income residents of Qatar and Singapore would be happier here. Their satisfaction scores are 6.8 and 6.5.

Typically, though, happiness does follow income. The low‐income nations of Burundi, Haiti and the Congo each have a satisfaction score of 3.8.

Australians are not a particularly equal society (Norway’s income distribution puts us in the shade) and far from impressive when it comes to equality of the sexes. On gender equality Australia is the 18th‐ranked nation in the world; Sweden is No. 1.

Pushing us down in the gender rating is our teenage fertility rate (16 in every 1000 teenage women gives birth, far more than most European nations but a good deal less than the US) and our placement of women in Parliament. The UN says 28 per cent of our parliamentary seats are occupied by women, a ranking well below Norway, with 40 per cent, and New Zealand, with 34 per cent.

The UN says the worst places in the world to live are in Africa. The bottom five are Chad, Mozambique, Burundi, Niger and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The five best places to live are Norway, Australia, the Netherlands, the US and New Zealand.

Peter Martin, SMH – 3 November

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