The economic quality of life is correlated to the GDP, but the two are not one and the same. The GDP per capita figure gives a pretty good indication of a country’s wealth, but wealth distribution must also be taken into account when considering the overall quality of life. With respect to per capita GDP, the CIA World Factbook is led primarily by smaller countries whose economies are driven either by banking (Liechtenstein, Jersey, Bermuda) or oil (Qatar, Kuwait, Brunei). While citizens of the former group have a normal Western quality of life, citizens in the oil nations lead lives more akin to second-world developing nations. Wealth inequality is high in these countries because land ownership is concentrated in the hands of a few individuals. The sultan of Brunei, for example, is one of the wealthiest people in the world but the country’s citizens enjoy a quality of life not much different than that of any of the nearby Malaysian cities.
To analyze this question further, we can study two countries with a high per capita GDP, Brunei being one and the other being Andorra, one of the small European nations that dominates the top of the per capita GDP list on the CIA World Factbook. Brunei has a per capita GDP of $50,300 while Andorra has a per capita GDP of $46,700. These two countries will be compared against measures such as life expectancy, adult literacy, infant mortality, and other measures of quality of life.
Brunei has an adult literacy rate of 92.7%, 90.2% for females. Life expectancy at birth is 76.17 years and the infant mortality rate is 11.51 deaths per 1000 live births. The unemployment rate is 3.7%. The country has 425,000 cellular phones for 401,890 people, a rate of 1.05 per person. The rate of landlines is 0.2. There are 314,900 internet users, or 74% of the population (CIA World Factbook, 2011). There are 346 cars per 1000 population in the country (The Economist, 2011).
Andorra has an adult literacy rate of 100%. Life expectancy at birth is 82.43 years and the infant mortality rate 3.8 deaths per 1000 live births. The unemployment rate is 2.9%. The country has 64,500 cellular phones for 84,825 people, a rate of 0.76. The rate of landlines is 44.6%. There are 67,100 Internet users, or 79.1% of the population. There are no figures given by the Economist of the number of cars in Andorra.
These figures confirm the hypothesis that Andorra, despite having a lower GDP per capita, enjoys a higher quality of life. It has fewer cell phones, for example, in part because it has better landline connectivity. With respect to human measures, however, Andorra’s superior literacy rate, life expectancy and infant mortality rates point to a higher degree of success in developing human successes.
Going forward, there is a strong likelihood that Andorra’s economy will not grow at as fast a rate as Brunei’s. The country already enjoys one of the world’s best standards of living. In Brunei, however, there are two major threats. The first is that the wealth is not well-distributed. The country is dependent on oil wealth and if this is not spent on human development, the prospects for organic economic growth are relatively poor, especially given its remote location. I believe in the future that Andorra will continue to be better represented in GDP per capita calculations. The country’s per capita GDP reflects its high quality of life. In Brunei, the high per capita GDP masks the fact that its economy as a whole is roughly on the same level as the Malaysia states with which it shares its border. Unless wealth distribution improves in Brunei, the country will continue as a middle-income country with a very high per capita GDP.
CIA World Factbook, various pages. (2011). Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved May 10, 2011 from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook
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