Which are the countries in the world with the highest GDP? This is one of the classic questions related to economics. In today’s article we will try to answer this question by first showing the data for the 15 nations in the world, with at least 1 million inhabitants, with the highest GDP per capita and then the absolute data per nation. The GDP figures for 2020 have just been published in the World Bank. It is therefore possible not only to make a historical comparison, from the 1980s onwards, but also to analyse the latest data. These data have seen the strong impact of Covid-19, which is estimated to have decreased world GDP by 3 trillions. Countries by GDP per Capita | 1980/2020.
Top 15 Countries by GDP per Capita | 1980/2020
Let’s start by answering a first question. Which are the first nations in the world by GDP per capita, constant 2010 US in 2020. (Nations with less than 500,000 inhabitants are excluded from the video). The first nation in the world by GDP per capita is Luxembourg. In fact, Luxembourg has a GDP per capita of $107.458 in 2020. A figure that puts the European state in first position with a gap over the second, Norway, of almost 17,000 dollars. In second place we find Norway with a value of 90.884 dollars per capita and in third place Ireland with 81.297 dollars. All the countries in the top five are in Europe (not all in the European Union). There is one theme, however. It is estimated that over 15% of global jurisdictions are tax havens. An IMF investigation estimates that about 40% of global FDI flows, which heavily influence the GDP of various jurisdictions, are described as “phantom” transactions.
If we turn the clock back 40 years, to 1980 to be precise, we no longer find Luxembourg at the top of the list, but United Arab Emirates. The UAE had a value of USD 116.223 per capita. This is more than twice as much as Switzerland, which in 1980 had a figure of 56.302 dollars. In addition to the countries already mentioned in 2020, such as Norway and Luxembourg, Saudi Arabia, which in 1980 had a figure of $36,703, was also at the top of the list. The United States was also in the top 15, with a GDP per person of USD 28.589.
GDP (constant 2010 US$) – World Evolution 1960 to 2020
We have seen which are the first nations in the world by GDP per capita from 1980 to 20200. But how has the world’s GDP evolved since 1960? The 2020 GDP (constant 2010 US$) is estimated by the world bank to be 81.913 trillion. This figure is sharply down from 2019 where the figure was 84.966 Trillion. Overall, 2020 was one of the very few years in which GDP fell compared to the previous year. The same phenomenon was only seen globally in 2009 during the US financial crisis. In that case, the 2008 GDP of 64.504 trillion had fallen to 63.429 before rising again in 2010 to 66.163.
According to World Bank estimates, GDP in 1960 was 11.32 trillion. By the early 1970s global GDP had doubled to 22.435 trillion by 1973. Growth from year to year has been steady and, except for a few periods where growth has been mild, GDP has always increased. According to the World Bank’s latest estimates, published between May and June, global growth in 2021 is expected to be +5.6% with a strong rebound from 2020.
GDP per Capita: USA vs China vs India
If on a global level we have seen that there has been a generalised growth, what have been the changes in GDP in the top 3 nations with the most inhabitants today? While in 1960 the GDP per capita of the USA was $17578, in 2020 it has grown to $53,749. The drop from 2019 to 2020 was over $2,000. But in general, the US still has a growing trend. But what is certainly striking is the figure for China and India.
China’s GDP per capita in 2020 is $8405. China’s population in 2020 is 1,445,000,000 (approximately). Although there is still a big difference between the US and China, it is striking how strongly China’s figure has increased since the 1990s. To be clear, the GDP per capita for a Chinese inhabitant in 1990 was $729. Today, 30 years later, the average GDP has grown 10 times. India, too, has grown, albeit much less strongly than China. While in 1984 the GDP per capita between the two countries was similar, at around $475, the gap has widened markedly since the 1990s.
GDP per Capita in England – 1270/2016
To conclude the analysis on GDP, I looked at GDP per capita data for England. This data is very interesting because it analyzes trends from 1270 to 2016, over a decidedly very very long time frame.
The large impact on PIl per person, and on GDP in general, is due in large part to the industrial revolutions. The largest growth there was was in the 1930s, interrupted by World War II, and in the following years from the 1950s onwards. A growth that has seen only a few years of difficulty, such as the aforementioned 2009, due to the financial crisis. It will certainly be interesting to know in the coming years what will be the impact of the fourth industrial revolution, linked to digital.
Sources and data
I used several sources to make this article and video. For data from 1960 to 2020 on GDP per capita I used the world bank database.
For data on GDP in England: https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/statistics/research-datasets.
To see the video: Top 15 Countries by GDP per Capita – 1970/2020: https://youtu.be/w6ZQwDUnedw
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