There are two main ways in which one can determine which country has the highest income per capita. One can look at the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at its Purchasing Power Parity (PPP), or one can look at what is called its nominal GDP. Although different assessments and different methods reach different conclusions for every spot below the top, it is mostly undisputed that the country with the highest income per capita, by any measure, is Luxembourg.
First we’ll look at the nominal GDP for the top countries, to see how Luxembourg stacks up against the competition in per capita income. Nominal GDP is determined by simply taking the value of all services and all goods that occur in a given year, and dividing it by the number of people living in the country. There is no attempt to compensate for the fact that a certain amount of money might buy more in one country than another, so these numbers aren’t a very good predictor of how much the GDP per capita is worth locally.
In nominal GDP, Luxembourg comes out with the highest income per capita at roughly $88,000 US Dollars (USD). The number two country, Norway, comes well behind, at around $72,300 USD. Following Norway is Qatar with roughly $62,900 USD. The United States comes eighth, with just around $44,200 USD, a bit more than half the per capita income of Luxembourg, as measured in nominal GDP.
GDP at PPP is a considerably more useful marker of wealth, but is open to more estimation, and therefore rankings differ based on who prepares them. Purchasing Power Parity is based on the idea that in a healthy global economy, any given good will have roughly the same price. That means that if the prices seem to differ, it is because the value of currency differs between the two countries. By looking at certain benchmark items, such as a loaf of bread, or a Big Mac hamburger, economies can be normalized among themselves, allowing for a better comparison between nations. Because any item can be chosen, however, and because the way of measuring costs of those items may differ, various groups come up with different scales of PPP.
There are three major groups that offer good numbers on who has the highest income per capita in GDP at PPP: the CIA, the University of Pennsylvania, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In all three of these studies, Luxembourg comes out as having the highest income per capita, although the exact number differs between them. Different groups also may choose to include or not include dependencies and territories, such as Bermuda, as independent of their respective nations.
The CIA places Luxembourg first at roughly $71,400 USD, followed by the territory of Bermuda at $69,900 USD. Next comes the dependency of Jersey at $57,000 USD. The second-highest income per capita nation, however, is Equatorial Guinea at $50,200 USD. Third is the United Arab Emirates, at $49,700 USD. And rather than second, as in the nominal GDP, in this assessment Norway comes fourth, at $46,300 USD. The United States comes in at sixth, with a GDP at PPP of $43,800, considerably more than half of Luxembourg’s GDP at PPP.
The University of Pennsylvania also places Luxembourg as the highest income per capita nation in GDP at PPP, with roughly $54,300 USD. Next comes the United States, at $39,500 USD. Norway is the third-highest nation, with $37,400 USD, and the United Arab Emirates is right behind, at $33,400 USD. In this assessment Equatorial Guinea comes in 60th, rather than second, with a GDP at PPP of $10,300 USD.
Lastly, the IMF data, which looks only at members of the IMF, and Hong Kong, places Luxembourg first as the nation with the highest income per capita of $81,500 USD. Ireland comes in second with a GDP at PPP of $44,676 USD, just barely ahead of Norway at $44,648 USD. The United States is ranked fourth, at $43,200 USD, and Equatorial Guinea is again far from the top of the list at 43rd, with a GDP at PPP of $18,200 USD.
As is clear, the rankings are far from perfect, and depending on the group and mode of assessment, some countries rise or fall by many ranks. However, even with these disparities, Luxembourg is clearly the nation with the highest income per capita, by any standard, and by an incredibly large margin.