10 Facts From the 2020 Best Countries Report

Deidre McPhillips

Behind the Best Countries Rankings

There are billions of data points behind the Best Countries rankings. Here are 10 interesting findings from a survey of more than 20,000 people from around the world that illustrate perceptions of the state of the world today.

General perceptions are rather bleak. Nearly half of the people surveyed said that the world has become worse in the past year. Compared to last year, more people say that the global economy is in decline (74% vs. 67%), that nationalism is on the rise (77% vs. 73%) and that the gap between the rich and the poor is growing (86% vs. 85%).

Technology and its implications on personal privacy and the economy are also front of mind. More than three-quarters of those surveyed agreed that their internet privacy is at risk, with a similar share agreeing that the power of big tech corporations including Facebook, Google and Amazon should be limited. Fears that technology is displacing jobs increased from 72% in 2019 to 74% in 2020. Those fears are highest in South Korea, China and Thailand, but are particularly low in Japan (32%) despite the country's consistent top spot in perceptions of technological expertise.

Japan has been the leading Asian country since the inaugural Best Countries report in 2016. It takes No. 3 overall in the 2020 Best Countries ranking, thanks to strong perceptions of entrepreneurship (No. 2), economic potential (No. 5), power (No. 7) and heritage (No. 10). Yet, China overtook Singapore for the first time this year, ranking 15th and 16th overall, respectively. China improved in perceptions of innovation (from 88 to 92 on a 100-point scale), being progressive (from 83 to 91), income equality (from 8 to 14) and more.

The U.S. improved its overall Best Countries rank for the first time since the inaugural report, moving from No. 8 in 2019 to No. 7 in 2020. Yet, the world's largest economy fell in some key attributes. The U.S. hit an all-time low in perceptions of its trustworthiness, scoring just 16 points on a 100-point scale. Between 2019 and 2020, the country also lost points in perceptions that it cares about human rights, has gender equality and is safe, among others.

Seven of the top 10 Best Countries overall also rank among the top 10 countries for gender equality, including No. 1 Switzerland that ranks ninth in gender equality, No. 2 Canada that ranks fifth in gender equality and No. 8 Sweden that ranks first in gender equality. Japan, Germany and the United States are the exceptions. Across the 73 countries assessed, strong perceptions of gender equality are highly correlated with strong perceptions of economic stability and happiness.

While 90% of global citizens surveyed agree that women should be entitled to the same rights as men, just 64% said that women actually do have the same economic opportunities as men in their country. Business decision-makers were more likely than average to agree that women have the same economic opportunities as men, perhaps highlighting a gap between how well corporations think they are doing in driving equality and reality.

Additionally, of the five countries where citizens agree most strongly that women have the same economic opportunities as their country, four score less than 15 points (on a 100-point scale) in perceptions of income equality: Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and China. Meanwhile, New Zealand and Canada improved most in perceptions of income equality over the past five years, gaining 17 points and 15 points compared to 2016, respectively.

As with gender equality, global citizens perceive that actions by leadership to address climate change fall behind the need. Nearly 90% of those surveyed agree that the effects of climate change are real. While 84% of individuals said that they personally try to live a sustainable life, just 60% agree that their government is currently addressing the effects of climate change. Since 2016, the U.S. lost 12 points in perceptions of its efforts to care for the environment, scoring just 9 points on a 100-point scale in 2020. Nordic countries, including Finland, Sweden and Norway, consistently score top marks for this attribute, but citizens of many Asian countries, including Indonesia, India and Vietnam, agree most strongly that their governments are addressing the effects of climate change.

More than three-quarters of global respondents agree that their decisions to buy certain products are influenced by the country it is made in, with 70% agreeing that they would pay more for a product that was made in their country. Yet, when it comes to some things, certain countries are king. More people said that they would prefer automobiles from Germany than any other country. France is No. 1 for cosmetics, Italy for wine, food and fashion and Japan for technology and electronics. Canada ranked No. 1 for health care services.

To be included in the 2020 Best Countries ranking, all 73 nations had to perform well in four key benchmark measures of business, economics and quality of life. Some countries that rank toward the bottom of the list overall have some standout qualities. Ghana, ranked No. 67 overall, gained 6 points on a 100-point scale in the open for business category. The country ranks No. 10 for cheap manufacturing costs and No. 19 for a favorable tax environment. Ukraine, ranked No. 68 overall and Belarus, ranked No. 70 overall, both rank among the top 40 countries with an educated population. No. 71 Oman ranks in the top half of countries for perceptions of being a leader and being economically influential.

Ten countries dropped out of the Best Countries ranking this year for failing to meet all four benchmark requirements. Most did not make the cut for foreign direct investment inflows, including Angola, Belgium, Hungary, Iraq, Ireland and Uruguay. Nigeria and Tanzania also fell off the list for failing to rank among the top 150 countries in the United Nations' Human Development Index. Three countries that fell short in various benchmarks in previous years were added back into the rankings: Austria, Bolivia and Kenya. Bolivia, for example, had an 11% increase in international tourism receipts between 2016 and 2017, according to the World Bank.

Want to Know More?

The 2020 U.S. News Best Countries rankings, formed in partnership with BAV Group, a unit of global marketing communications company VMLY&R, and The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, aim to gauge global perceptions of the world's largest economies. Find out how your country did in the 2020 Best Countries rankings and explore more news, data and analysis on U.S. News.

Deidre McPhillips is a Data Editor at U.S. News & World Report, overseeing and conducting data collection and analysis for projects in the News channel, including Best Countries, Best States and Healthiest Communities. She previously worked as a data analyst and project manager at JPMorgan Chase, and her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, USA Today and a number of regional publications. She is a graduate of Fordham University, and earned her masters in journalism at the University of Maryland. She was awarded a 2019 University of Southern California Center for Health Journalism Data Fellowship, through which she produced a series of articles about the health effects of racial bullying, and she was a 2015 finalist for the Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence Awards. Follow her on Twitter, connect with her on LinkedIn or email her at dmcphillips@usnews.com.