It’s Not Just You. America Isn’t as Great as They Say It Is.
For a long time, American media has positioned the U.S. as the example of what it means to be the greatest country in the world. But how true is that really in 2022? After all, a recent study reported that 85% of Americans feel like we’re on the wrong track.
So how can we be so great and so unhappy at the same time?
Politicians and major media outlets seem content with gaslighting the American people about their legitimate concerns. So let’s take a look at some key quality of life categories, and see just how “great” the United States ranks.
United States Global Ranking by Category
Here we will break down where exactly the United States ranks in major quality of life categories, and explore some ideas on why America has landed in those spots.
Note: The rankings below can differ slightly based on the methods used to gather and calculate data, as well as the criteria used to include certain countries. There are also some categories that lack data on all of the countries, so the ranking will not always be out of 195. (If you’re interested in learning more about how to read studies like these, check out this article I published a few weeks ago.)
Starting out with a high ranking, the United States lands at number five in median income. Median is used here rather than average to filter out extreme wealth and extreme poverty.
The 10 countries with the highest median income are:
- United Arab Emirates
- United States
While having a higher median income is certainly a good thing, the bigger picture gets a bit more complicated.
Though the U.S. has the fifth-highest median income, the cost of living is also one of the highest. Finding a reliable cost of living to income ratio ranking is quite difficult, but it’s worth noting that making more money in the U.S. doesn’t necessarily equate to a better life when compared to other countries with lower costs of living.
Before we start celebrating our high median income ranking, we need to take a look at poverty rates in the U.S. and across the world. Poverty rate simply means the percentage of people whose income falls below the poverty line (current guidelines for the poverty line can be found here).
The United States lands at number 35 out of 38 countries that report poverty information to the OECD. According to a report published in 2021 by the organization, 17.8% of our population lives under the poverty line. This number has likely been made higher by the continued effects of the pandemic and the recent inflation crisis. A few of the countries with a lower poverty rate than the U.S. include Mexico, Russia, and the Czech Republic.
While this doesn’t include many of the impoverished nations in the world, being at least 35th in poverty rate isn’t the standard America should be aiming for. (You can check out more information on poverty in the USA here.)
It’s not a wild jump to think that the better your quality of life, the longer you can expect to live. The United States ranks 46th out of 193 for life expectancy, with an average age of 79.11 years (81.65 years for women and 76.61 years for men).
That’s certainly not the worst, but it’s definitely not near the best. This can be linked to a few things. The most obvious being the lack of universal healthcare, as well as unhealthy lifestyles and high homicide rates.
Circling back to life expectancy, one of the biggest issues comes down to a lack of healthcare access in the U.S … Coming in at number one in healthcare spending per capita, healthcare spending in the United States is nearly double that of the next highest country (Germany, for those curious).
While spending money on healthcare is potentially a good thing, healthcare costs are much higher in America than in the rest of the world. This leads to a lack of access to medical care for many average people.
It is worth noting that while the US does have the most expensive healthcare, the healthcare provided is generally high quality. Analysis of cost, availability, and quality put our healthcare ranking at 18 out of 167 countries. This ranking isn’t terrible, but again it’s not quite up to the “greatest country in the world” standard.
America ranks 50th out of 195 countries in infant mortality rates (deaths within a year of birth). 5.44 infants per 1,000 births die in the United States. This number is unacceptable in such a developed nation.
The U.S. has a roughly 71% higher infant mortality rate than similarly developed countries. This is likely because the infant mortality rate is very high in communities with poor healthcare access (namely southern states and minority groups).
Life expectancy issues in the U.S. are not only tied to healthcare access, but also to unhealthy lifestyles. The United States ranks as the 12th most obese nation in the world, with roughly 36.2% of the population suffering from obesity. This can be heavily linked to the large amount of highly processed foods we eat in the United States but has some socioeconomic implications as well. Read more about it here.
Mental health is a very important part of our well-being and an under-addressed area of healthcare in the United States. One category that shows this problem is suicide rates. The United States ranks as having the 31st highest suicide rate out of 183 recorded countries, with 14.5 suicides per 100,000 people a year.
This is another factor in lowering the life expectancy ranking and underlines how necessary it is to address mental health issues.
How safe should we feel living day to day in the United States? It turns out, not very.
Based on a calculation of crime rates, violent occurrences, and international relations, the United States is 129th out of 163 on the Global Peace Index.
Ranking 56 out of 137, the United States finds itself pretty close to the middle when it comes to crime rate. It is worth noting that most crimes in the United States are property crimes (theft, vandalism, trespassing, etc.). This means that landing in the middle of the rankings doesn’t necessarily tell us how safe or unsafe America is.
It’s no secret that the United States has a wild west reputation when it comes to guns. The murder rate seems to back that idea up. The United States has the 59th highest murder rate out of 195 countries, with about 6.3 people murdered per 100,000 people each year. Furthermore, roughly 80% of murders were carried out via some form of firearm.
Finally, some good news! America is sixth in adult education levels based on the percentage of adults who have attended at least some level of tertiary school (post-high school education). While America has some of the best universities in the world, the ever-growing cost of college is making them more inaccessible. This leaves the door open for other countries to start pushing the United States down the rankings. Still, higher education quality is an area America can be proud of.
Although America has a solid amount of people gaining higher levels of education, there is still a large group of people that have been failed by our education system. According to a recent study by the Department of Education, 54% of adults in the United States read below a sixth-grade level. While that might not seem great (and it really isn’t), the US still ranks 13th out of 77 countries in student reading scores.
When it comes to math proficiency, the United States has fallen behind, allowing other countries to leapfrog them in the rankings. Currently, America ranks 37 out of 78 countries in math assessment scores.
Climate change, global warming, whatever you want to call it, human impact on the environment is becoming more and more evident. When looking at the Environmental Performance Index (EPI), which measures environmental health and ecosystem vitality, the United States ranks 27 out of 30. Safe to say, America might want to consider doing more if it wants to help keep this beautiful planet in one piece.
It’s not all doom and gloom. While America might not be the greatest country by many metrics, it still maintains its status as a top country when looking at the world holistically. Once you include other metrics such as culture, business, entrepreneurship, and so on, the United States still comes in at a respectable number 6 in the world.
So, America might not be the greatest country in the world, but a lot of us already knew that. Despite what the talking heads say, Americans are right in feeling uneasy about the United States’ standing on the global stage.
Even more concerning, there doesn’t seem to be a clear plan on how to work our way back up, or even stop our free-fall down the rankings. It’s pretty clear the U.S. needs to make some changes, and you definitely shouldn’t doubt yourself if you feel that way.
If you’re feeling dragged down by the state of current events, focus on ways to change what you can for the better. I offer plenty of tips for how to live a happy, healthy life in my book Life Hacks: Simple Steps to a Healthier Life.
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